Eliminate the Digital Divide Celebrates Tenth Anniversary
The story of E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide) is one of generosity, creativity, family, and community. It all began with one question.
Eleven years ago, Franny Millen, a Davidson middle schooler, sat down to dinner with her family, brothers Paddy and Sam and parents Eileen Keeley and Pat Millen. During the usual dinnertime chatter, Franny said “How can all kids in our school do their homework and projects successfully if some of their families are too poor to own digital technology? That’s not fair!” Then she asked a more important question, “What can we do about it?” As it turns out, quite a lot.
In 2013, the Davidson Elementary School administration identified 54 families who did not have a computer. Pat contacted the Ada Jenkins Center, and director Georgia Krueger agreed for the center to become the umbrella agency through which E2D could raise money. The Center had received a donation of over 100 computers from Valspar, but since they did not know what to do with the invaluable computers, they were sitting idle in a closet. Those computers became the first ones to help eliminate the digital divide.
Of course, the computers needed programs and refurbishment. Enter Al Sudduth, a retired computer engineer. The Millen family, along with family friends, cleaned and checked all the computers. On his own, Al refurbished them. (More about his contributions later.)
With the computers up and running, eight Davidson College students worked with those 54 families to teach them how to use the technology. Never having had access to a computer before, family members had to learn not only how to turn one on, but how to use a keyboard. Sometimes, since there were language barriers, using Google Translate was essential. Communication between parents and the school began, enriching the lives of the students in those families and enriching the school.
E2D’s organic growth found its roots in community relationships. While at Summit Coffee one day, Pat struck up a conversation with Steve Szilagyi, an executive at Lowe’s, about E2D’s goals. Steve said he’d see what he could do. And how he came through! At that time, Lowe’s donated 500 computers, with the promise of providing the same number each year. The computers were dirty and without programs, but remember, E2D had Al Sudduth, who refurbished them all.
At end of 2013, E2D had distributed 150 computers. Ten years later, they distribute 150 computers every four days. 14,000 of those computers have come from Lowe’s.
Working from school to school, E2D eliminated the digital divide in north Mecklenburg schools. Ann Clark, from the CMS superintendent’s office, challenged E2D to eliminate the divide for the whole Charlotte system. They started by giving away 100 computers at five schools.
Paul Leonard, chair of the first board, suggested that recipient families have some investment in their computers, so the model now is that families, verified to be living below the poverty line, pay $80.
One of E2D’s most innovative ideas was to establish computer labs at high schools, where students, trained by Al Sudduth, learn to build and repair computers. The company interviews the students and pays them twice the minimum wage. Many of these students are the major wage earners in their families. Often, they receive scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities, graduate with degrees, and secure jobs that pay well and offer advancement.
Pat was at West Charlotte High School, exploring the possibility of opening a lab there. Dr. Timisha Barnes-Jones, principal, offered him an empty, temporary trailer for lab space. Knowing that the schools would be closed for spring break, Google Fiber stepped in and offered to outfit the trailer. When break was over, the new lab space was replete with new floor, new lighting, computers, and state-of-the-art fiber.
Without realizing it, E2D was preparing for Covid shutdowns. When schools closed, the labs closed, as well. With promises that the technicians would follow safety precautions, the AvidXChange Music Factory, donated 7,000 square feet of lab space. Recently, EY (Ernst & Young) donated 3,000 square feet for a new lab.
On August 24, Lowe’s is hosting a gala ten-year anniversary for E2D. It will be held in Lowe’s new technology hub in South End, near the EY Lab, and will be to toast not only the success of the programs, but also the corporate and non-profit partners who make it possible. Pat has hinted that he will be making a big announcement that evening, so check News of Davidson on Friday, August 25, for that news.
August 25 will be the 11th Annual D-Day (Back to School Distribution), held at the Imaginon Library in Charlotte, from 9 a.m. until noon.
Estimates are that in 2013, 65,000 families in Mecklenburg County did not have a computer at home. Today that figure, in large part thanks to the almost 38,000 computers given away by E2D, is below 15,000.
Since E2D’s inception, 90 companies have donated computers to their efforts, and the Millen family and E2D board are grateful to them all. Three, however, have been the mainstays: Lowe’s, Honeywell, and Bank of America. You can see the complete list at the E2D website: https://www.e-2-d.org. While there, you can also donate to their cause and help answer Franny’s question: What can we do about it?
Jennie Clifton, a Concord native, taught high school Latin in Georgia, where she was a Tar Heel in exile until she and her husband Cecil, a Davidson graduate, retired here in 2011. They are now enjoying life at The Pines.