CORNELIUS — “I’m going to be your best student this year.”
That was the first sentence a student typed on his laptop computer after receiving it thanks to the efforts of Eliminate the Digital Divide.
Since last fall, the organization E2D has offered low-income students and their families the opportunity to have a computer. Having met the majority of the needs for students in Davidson, E2D, led by Pat Millen, has expanded to Cornelius.
In the past three weeks, E2D has given 120 computers to Cornelius students and identified more in need. The goal is to get them to students in all levels, including Cornelius and JV Washam elementary schools, Bailey Middle and Hough High by next school year and then move into Huntersville.
“The second you think you’ve eliminated the digital divide, you better snap a picture because the next day there is a new divide — more people move in and computers break,” Millen said.
E2D was the brainchild of his daughter, 13-year-old Franny, who came home and asked how her schoolmates do their homework without computers and thought there should be a way to get them one.
Her father, brothers Paddy and Sam, and mother Eileen Keeley have all joined the effort. So have community partners like The Ada Jenkins Center, MI-Connection and Lowe’s Home Improvement.
“Improving public education is important to Lowe's, so we were excited to take part in the initial wave of assistance by donating 500 laptops to E2D,” said Lowe’s Community Relations manager Tom Donaghue in a statement. “We're honored to help E2D eliminate the digital divide at Davidson Elementary and spread the program’s reach to Cornelius and surrounding areas.”
Last August, 50 families from Davidson Elementary were connected with computers and home Internet. People raised money through donations and fundraisers like a lemonade stand.
“E2D struck a nerve in town. People understand how important technology is and they understand they have the ability to make a difference,” Millen said.
Thanks to the refurbished computer donation, the majority of the cost is taken care of, though money is still needed to fund software and for the discounted MI-Connection wireless fees.
Computer recipients pay $10 a month for a year, and for $120 they get a computer and free Internet for the first year. After that, the computer is theirs to keep and they simply have to pay the Internet bill. To qualify, families must apply and show they are on free and reduced lunch, though teachers and principals also make referrals.
Cognizant a computer is worthless if they don’t know how to use it, Pat Millen enlisted the help of Davidson College students, who offer training.
“Participating was a total no-brainier and I feel lucky to be a part,” Davidson College President Carol Quillen said. “Training is part of the ongoing support and the students are learning a lot and making a difference. E2D pulls together the school, community, town and college and bring groups together.”
Support is needed in Huntersville, which has a need greater than Cornelius and Davidson combined, he said.
Millen seeks people to help identify the needs and raise money. Since MI-Connection doesn’t extend into Huntersville, he also hopes to partner with an Internet company to help provide the service.
“If you write a check for $200, you get a family who has never had a computer completely upfit for all software and training,” Millen said. “If they can’t donate, I need energetic volunteers or businesses to sponsor an event to help raise money.”
Want to help? Eliminate the digital divide by helping get laptop computers in the home of every student in Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville. Send checks payable to Ada Jenkins Center (with E2D in the memo line) to P.O. Box 1299 Davidson, NC 28036.