When the pandemic hit and we started remote learning last March, I knew it would be a problem for some of my classmates, who didn’t have cell phones or laptops and already had to do computer homework at school during recess. With schools shut down, these kids were suddenly deprived of the opportunity to learn. They simply didn’t have the computers and/or the internet access needed to be educated online. They missed out on a lot. I also knew there were lots of other kids who felt left out, excluded, and even lonely -- during the pandemic and even before that.
I tried to think of a solution. How could we come together and create a supportive place where everyone can feel safe, secure and seen? A place where we are all included. Through Including You , kids who volunteer to be mentors are paired up with younger kids who experience disparities because of learning, developmental or physical disabilities, or economic disparities. We can laugh and learn together.
But there was still the issue of digital inclusion. Through friends and family and selling Including You merchandise, I had given 45 laptops and hotspots to mentees in rural Mississippi to facilitate a partnership with a nonprofit there. But then I realized how much was needed close to home. I read an article in the local paper about 9-year-old Kimani, a Bronx girl whose mother was being threatened with Children’s Services because her daughter lacked a computer and was missing remote classes. I had just won money through a Girl Scout award, so I used that to buy a laptop for Kimani. When I delivered it, she told me how hard it had been for her to miss out on so much school because her school never replaced the broken tablet they provided. I was so glad I could help her.
But there was more work to be done.....
At the start of school in October 2020, 77,000 kids in NYC public schools lacked the devices they needed for remote learning. These kids were knocking on their virtual classroom door, and no one was letting them in. I had to try to help. And so, I set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy devices for NYC kids who needed them for remote learning. I was touched by the outpouring of support, with people I never met giving $5, $10 and even in one instance $1000! The money from GoFundMe donors and others has helped us get devices to nearly 200 students!
I see on the news a lot about what divides us, but I think this GoFundMe showed me all the good there is in the world. So many people want to help others, in any way that they can. It has made me feel hopeful at a time many might feel hopeless.
Thank you to everyone who has donated to my campaign! Your generosity has helped kids who had been missing out on school for too long because they lacked a device for remote learning!
I have had the opportunity to speak with some of the students who received computers through our GoFundMe campaign. One girl I spoke to, a high school senior, was unable to get a device from school because she had no adult to sign for it since her dad worked days and could not come to school. So for the last year, her dad would leave his phone home while he went to work, and she and her younger brother would share the phone to keep up with classes. She missed out on a lot, and her A average soon slipped. She even tried to take her AP exam on the phone, but it crashed and she couldn’t complete it. I am so glad we were able to get a computer to her, and now that I heard her story, we are sending a computer to her brother, too.
In another instance, a little boy whose family immigrated to the US two years ago and who has a learning disability had been without a laptop for months and was missing out. He and his Dad came to my place to pick up the computer. I was about to open my apartment door when I heard him approach and whisper to his dad, “I’m so nervous.” Hey, I’m only 12, so I was nervous too! When I opened the door, I looked down to see a cute little boy presenting me with flowers. I hugged him quickly because of COVID and we talked a little. When he got home, his mom sent me a picture of him using the computer, and I finally saw his amazing smile.
Because of GoFundMe, we are returning a sense of normalcy to kids who have been shut out of their educational home for too long. They’ve missed out on a lot, and have some catching up to do, but now they have the tools to do so.
I am so grateful to GoFundMe for being a partner in my mission to promote tech and educational equity. I was so surprised when they presented me with a donation of $5,000 as part of their Beyond Gives Back Program! With this money, 25 more kids will receive laptops and finally be connected to school! Thank you, GoFundMe!
I know that schools in NYC and throughout the country will continue to have a remote option next year, and some kids will need to take that option because of health concerns at home. Experience has shown us that some of these kids will continue to be left behind, without a device to connect them to school. And so, I will continue to work to bridge this digital divide, one laptop at a time. This GoFundMe campaign will remain an important way for us to achieve this goal. And so, on behalf of Including You and all the kids knocking on their classroom door, waiting to be heard, I sincerely thank you.
- Jody Shankman
- Laura Dimeling
- David Lumb
- Tracy Nayer
Organizer and beneficiary
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