Digital N.E.S.T

DN_LoRes-7“This place is magic,” a staff member said to me as we watched the activity of an average day at the Digital N.E.S.T (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology). I nodded my head in agreement but in thinking it through, I realized that the NEST isn’t some sort of supernatural phenomenon; it’s actually a lot less complicated than that. Inclusion and opportunity is all it is.

Youth who come into our Watsonville center, a Google-like environment, where they get laptops, high speed internet, and snacks. They can take workshops in web design, graphic design, and or marketing, and they are surrounded by mentors every day. These things weren’t afforded to them prior to the NEST. If there is magic at the NEST, it is our youth.

As a father, I know that motivating kids to go beyond playing video games or watching television is a tough task, so I think our students are extraordinary. They choose to come learn at the NEST after school, during spring, summer and winter breaks. They are so eager to learn.

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The idea for Digital NEST started the night I saw one of my former middle-school computer programming students sitting outside a locked building of Cabrillo Community College. She sat outside the locked building to access their wi-fi because she didn’t have any internet access at home. She was now a student at the college, but had to overcome barriers to complete her homework. This is unacceptable I thought, and decided that I had to do something about it.

In November of 2014, with funding from a community angel investor, a small core of donors dedicated to social justice, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the NEST opened its doors. What we do goes beyond the wi-fi connection. We set high expectations for our youth. We surround them with love, encouragement, and access to the high-tech tools they need to dream big. We expect that they will succeed and they start to believe it.

Hundreds of youth come through our doors, and they are just as intelligent, committed, hardworking, and focused on improving their community as youth from any affluent community. What our youth didn’t have was equal opportunity. This belief that all kids are fluent with technology is far from the truth. In California, only 52% of Latino families have internet access at home. Families in communities like Watsonville, an agricultural, low-income community, must make difficult choices between basic needs or paying for monthly internet.

The ongoing question in the tech world is, “How do we diversify our tech talent?” The answer can be found within the walls of the Digital NEST It’s simple, you level the playing field by providing youth from poor communities access to the tools they need. Add mentorship, a welcoming environment, and high expectations and they thrive. So far, we have given 900+, mostly Latino/a youth members -35% of them female- the same tools and opportunities that techies from affluent families have, and we watch them flourish.

By: Jacob Martinez, Founder and Executive Director of Digital N.E.S.T

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2016 LCF Grantees!

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The Latino Community Foundation (LCF) unleashes the power and potential of Latino leaders and communities.

We know our communities have the strength, talent and wisdom to lead effective solutions for change. That is why LCF invests in emerging Latino nonprofits on the frontlines of social change. In 2016, we invested $535,000 in 42 Latino-led organizations in 18 California counties. Click here to see a comprehensive list of all 2016 LCF GRANTEES. 

In 2017, LCF will double down on our commitment to grassroots leaders and organizations. We are launching a Latino Nonprofit Accelerator, a 12-month program designed to strengthen marketing, fundraising, and community organizing skills of Latino-led nonprofits. Our goal is to ensure they become strong and sustainable anchor institutions with the political power to influence policy change.

Our impact is possible because of our tireless community partners and your generosity. We invite you to be part of a historic year for our Foundation. Click here to make a donation. 

Thank you for investing in the future of our great state.

Match Your Hands with Your Heart

Action is powerful. 

Maureen Bunting grabbed her phone while watching Election night results and called the Latino Community Foundation. Our staff answered the call and invited Maureen to come to our offices. She has been coming in to volunteer ever since, helping LCF build our database. Her presence has provided all of us with much needed hope and inspiration.  We invite you to learn more about her story. 

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Why did you call us on Nov 8th?

I was upset. I had been upset for more than 6 months, but the election results had pushed me over the edge. There were horrible things being said about Latino immigrants, and as an immigrant myself I had to do something. I couldn’t sit back any longer.

I know that Latinos are the backbone of our economy in California. Napa Valley or Silicon Valley wouldn’t be what they are today without all the labor of the Latino community.

My immigrant story is the same as many others. The important thing is that here in the United States, we have a voice and we must use it. We fought so hard, sacrificed so much to earn that. So that’s why I picked up the phone and called LCF. I wanted to do something.

What’s your story?

I’m an immigrant from Indonesia. I immigrated to Colorado with my family when I was 11 years old. People were very welcoming and a Methodist church sponsored us. The kindness of others made all the difference. Because we were welcomed, assimilation was guaranteed. It opened many doors for me.

I went to Cornell to study Electrical Engineering. Once I received my degree I worked in Silicon Valley and raised an amazing daughter. As a young woman, I took off to teach English in Mongolia and China– and my passion became apparent to me. That passion was helping people.  After that experience, I didn’t want to do things I didn’t believe in anymore.  I wanted to have my heart and my actions in sync.

What is your advice to people who are angry, scared, and feeling hopeless?

  1. To match your hands and heart. Go do something that matters. Find a place to volunteer, to do something for someone. It may seem like a little thing, but it’s very empowering.
  2. Don’t feel helpless, otherwise you can sink into being a victim. It’s a choice to be a victim. To sit around and complain without taking any action is toxic, it can spread like a disease. Action on the other hand is empowering, it’s good for you.

You’ve been volunteering since November –  what brings you back each day?

I love data. I love technical stuff and solving problems. My house is a mess, but somehow organizing numbers get me excited. I am happy to come here to help this Foundation with the Salesforce database. It gives me purpose to make an impact.

What are you hopeful about in 2017 – is there any silver lining?

It’s a hard question. I think compassion and action from regular people. As a result of this change in government, I hope that there will be more people who take action. We’ve realized just how fragile things are, and there is no longer room for complacency.

When you’re upset, it’s so easy to wallow. It’s only through taking action that you can come out of that. And then taking that action –  you can become hopeful. Because you’re doing something.

What are you proudest of?

My sense of empathy. But I guess it’s also my downfall. Sometimes I think I give people too many chances and get taken advantage of. But it’s never stopped me. Kindness always prevails. I want kindness in my heart.

I told all my friends that I called LCF on Election day, and that I got involved. A couple of my friends are now doing the same. I was very surprised and happy to have that impact as well.

What advice do you have for Latino youth?  

Look at your rich cultural identity. There are lots of stories of survivors… the things that your ancestors and your families have endured for you is incredible. I have great respect for people who are survivors, who have love in their hearts. That’s the essence of my experience with my Latino friends. They have such kindness, light and love in their hearts. It’s rare and it’s beautiful.

Look into your culture for insight into who you are. Identity is important. At the end of the day, I am my mother’s daughter.

LCF is honored to have Maureen join our LCF family. We ALL have the power to do good. Don’t hesitate to use your talents to help others. It may seem simple, or insignificant to you, but it makes a big difference. As Maureen said, match your hands with your heart. Happy New Year!

 

Goodbye to My Insecurity Blanket

By: Ileana Cáceres 

Like many of you, this past election spurred some significant and critical self-reflection. How could this have happened? Why didn’t I do more? What can I do now?

Despite having always cared deeply about the rights of immigrants and women, I confess that I had not done any direct outreach in my local communities. Instead I contributed financially to the political candidates and causes of my choice and compulsively consumed political updates from the New York Times. In discussing the famed abolitionist John Brown (who led a failed insurrection), Lincoln wrote: “It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.” You see, good thoughts and intentions evaporate in the face of harsh realities, such as the incoming administration. It availed me nothing that my heart was in the right place. And I had such stupid reasons for keeping me back. Specifically, I worried that my “gringa” Spanish wouldn’t be of any help to my local Latino community. 

You see, I grew up in the 90s in suburban Maryland. As a brown, curly-haired kid with nerdy tendencies, I was always scared of misstepping in either American or Latin culture, and never felt completely at ease in either. To my Anglo-American peers, I was deeply exotic, even though I just saw myself as another character from my Harry Potter books, whose internal motivations matched my own but who looked nothing like my olive-skinned self. But still, I dreamt of an owl coming to my window with my invitation for Hogwarts.

When I visited my parents’ home countries (El Salvador y La Republica Dominicana), I would stumble through my Spanish and feel an even higher wall between myself and the culture. Coming from the states, where dancing consisted of awkwardly rubbing against each other in school gymnasiums, I felt like such a pura gringa out with my cousins in Santo Domingo. I didn’t know how to dance merengue, salsa, cumbia o nada, so I bopped along and smiled from the bar, enjoying myself but utterly out of my element. As I navigated my diverse interests (Juan Luis Guerra, Led Zeppelin, Stravinsky, The Misfits), I had so many moments of dislocation – am I allowed in this space? Is this song for me too? Feeling like an eternal tourist, pressing one’s face against a snow globe, has been a large part of my experience as a Latina in the US.

Pero ya, basta with the insecurity. This is not the time for inaction because of fear that you’re not Latina enough.

In this New Year, I commit myself to throwing off the blankets of insecurity and the layers of doubt that have kept me from participating. My parents instilled me with a deep pride in being Latin American and we are under attack by the incoming administration. I may have grown up as an awkward wallflower but I reaped lasting benefits as well. For one, I am empathetic. I have many skills to contribute. I have had the luxury of being in many cultures and subcultures. I am bilingual and I am proud to be a Latina and an American.

Rather than dwell on the past and retreat into the safety of my friends, now is my time to employ my strengths and dive into the community. I have started volunteering at a local library and I’m headed to DC for the Women’s March on Washington. I am fairly new to California, so I took a chance and reached out to the Latino Community Foundation to learn more about ways to get involved. I still feel like I’m not doing enough, but I am trying. Most importantly, I have realized that it is my time to quit worrying about whether I fit in, whether my pronunciation is perfect, and focus on reaching others in any way that I can. Join me.

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Ileana with her sister, Marcela.