By Jacob Martinez, Founder and Executive Director
“This place is magic,” a staff member said to me as we watched the activity of an average day at the Digital NEST (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.
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.