Sunnyvale, CALIFORNIA — Today, Close the Gap Foundation announces its first donation from Airbnb, adding to the foundation's family of corporate sponsors committed to help close the digital divide for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) students in the United States. The 50 refurbished MacBook laptops donated by Airbnb brings technology to students who otherwise may not have access to reliable devices, and directly influences the outcome for those participating in Close the Gap Foundation's Social Impact Fellowship for the upcoming summer cohort.
A necessity to modern learning for K-12 students is having reliable digital devices, a challenge exacerbated by the recent pandemic's shift from solely in-person schooling to hybrid in-person and online learning. This shift to remote learning puts low income individuals at a disadvantage, with many having little to no access to reliable devices or high-speed internet.
More than ever, modern education hinges on access to technology, and statistics gathered by a Rutgers University study prove that the digital divide disproportionately affects students in lower-income households. According to the study, of students aged three to 13 years old and with incomes below the national median of $75,000 a year, one in eight do not have a computer at home. Twenty-one percent of that same student demographic who participated in remote learning were unable to participate in school or finish their assignments at some point because they could not access a computer.
Despite the statistics, combating and overcoming these digital inequities in low-income communities is possible. The MacBook donation from Airbnb, a first-of-its-kind for Close the Gap Foundation, is a step towards decreasing that divide and opening new opportunities for students. Every student who completes the 2022 Social Impact Fellowship will receive a refurbished MacBook.
Throughout the 12-week program, Fellows will utilize the donated MacBook laptops to connect with other students through project-based learning, collaborate with their mentors, and participate in tailored workshops. Each activity is as important as the next for shaping the outcome of the summer social impact project, with the top project awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Close the Gap Foundation continuously builds on its scholarship packages and expands the number of scholarship recipients due to the generosity of its donors and corporate sponsors.
The core of Close the Gap Foundation's initiatives stems from lived experiences, like those of Chris Bennet, Senior IT Support Engineer at Airbnb. His personal connection to the foundation's tenet of creating an equitable future without opportunity gaps makes the company's donation that much more meaningful:
We're certainly happy to help provide technology devices to those in need. This is critical to the generation growing up in a digital world to become adaptive and knowledgeable about using, creating, and troubleshooting systems. Growing up in Richmond, CA, I was given a donation computer in the 6th grade when homework was required to be typed and submitted, making my home typewriter obsolete. That donation was life-changing for me and spurred a career in technology. I'm confident each of these systems will inspire those wanting to connect to the world." – Chris Bennet, Senior IT Support Engineer at Airbnb
Like Chris Bennett, Close the Gap Foundation's co-founder and executive director, Jessie Salas, recounts how a laptop donation from his parents' employer ignited his curiosity for technology and eventually led him to pursue a career in tech.
My parents immigrated from Mexico and worked in grape fields as box packers, and when their employer's packing facility office purchased a new desktop computer, they gifted the old one to us. I was seven years old, and it was my first computer. Having access to a computer at a young age was the catalyst that sparked my interest in technology, and I credit my working in the tech industry today to that. This donation from Airbnb really brings Close the Gap's mission full circle. Many of our fellows, mentors, and volunteers have similar stories to mine and Chris', and together, we're all laying the groundwork to close numerous gaps facing FGLI students. – Jessie Salas, co-founder and executive director at Close the Gap Foundation
Though Close the Gap Foundation provided three Chromebooks and distance learning supplies to fifteen deserving high school students through its previous 2021 Distance Learning Microgrant, this new contribution from Airbnb marks substantial year-on-year growth. The impact of the Chromebook and laptop donations extend beyond students' relationship with Close the Gap Foundation and into their continued paths as students. The donations allow them to complete homework assignments, conduct research for projects, and connect with professionals virtually – leveling an otherwise uneven playing field for those who did not previously have access to reliable devices.
While the size and nature of the digital divide vary widely throughout the United States irrespective of urban density and geography, progress is on the horizon. The Common Sense and Boston Consulting report shows that in the months that followed the early stages of the recent pandemic, many school districts across the U.S. utilized federal CARES Act funding to close the digital divide. As a result, 40% to 60% of the roughly 15 million students who previously didn't have a device now possess one as of December 2020. According to the same report, while 40% to 60% of this gap was closed by state and district efforts, roughly 9 million students still are affected by not having a reliable device at home.
Statistics show plenty of students still face a technology barrier, but Close the Gap Foundation is actively working to tackle this issue through its life-changing programs, which are made possible through donations from donors and corporate sponsors. Airbnb's refurbished MacBook donation to Close the Gap Foundation exemplifies their dedication to fostering a community based on connection and belonging, and the collaboration between the two organizations brings a lasting impact to the Fellows of the 2022 Social Impact Fellowship and beyond.
About Close the Gap Foundation
Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. Founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income youths, Close the Gap Foundation works to empower first-gen, low-income students to build lifelong confidence and reach their fullest potential. Close the Gap Foundation Close the Gap Foundation's President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.
Close the Gap Foundation's flagship program, the Social Impact Fellowship, is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps first-generation, low-income high school students find mentors, grow their confidence, and give back. Through structured mentorship and project-based learning, Fellows work with mentors from renowned organizations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and UCSF to tackle a self-directed social impact project to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.
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