The SoLa I CAN Foundation and The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, two nonprofit organizations, partnered with the Los Angeles Kings, Wells Fargo and AEG to distribute laptops and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to underserved students and families of South Los Angeles.
As part of “Team Up For Tech,” the two nonprofits recently received 55 laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, headphones and LA Kings merchandise for South LA students and families.
The SoLa I CAN Foundation provides educational, technological and economic opportunities to South LA youth and families, and the event was hosted at its campus, the SoLa “Beehive” Campus.
“We think that providing access to education and opportunity is a game changer,” said Sherri Francois, executive director of the SoLa I CAN Foundation. “Part of that is bridging the digital divide. There’s an enormous gap when it comes to access to technology and (online) classes.
“The goal of SoLa I CAN is really to break the cycle of poverty in South LA. The students, youth and families we serve, 63% of them live below the poverty line.”
Students and families chosen to receive the laptops and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots were selected through an eligibility requirement. According to Francois, eligibility meant living in South LA, qualifying as low-income and currently having children in school, after a lottery system made the final decision.
“Hearing the families (at the event) and seeing the impact firsthand is real, authentic and there’s an incredible need,” Francois said. “That need is not going away anytime soon. So, that really drives my team to keep on working and to raise awareness of issues that we are dealing with in South LA.”
Latonia Graves, mother of three, and her 14-year-old son, Isaiah Graves, attended the event and were among the 55 families who received a laptop. Isaiah attends Washington Preparatory High School and said his remote-learning experience has been tough and the donation would help with his studies.
Latonia said, “It was good because he didn’t have a laptop. I had to share my phone and laptop with my neighbors and mother; it’s a blessing that (Isaiah) now has his own computer.”
Wells Fargo and the LA Kings will also be “donating money to purchase hundreds of laptops for students and families of Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School in Watts,” according to Alex Batson, development manager of special projects and events for The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools has teamed with Los Angeles Unified School District to manage schools in South LA, Boyle Heights and Watts. The nonprofit works in communities where the schools are considered “high-need,” based on neighborhood conditions, with a goal of empowering students and helping them succeed through strengthening school systems.
“We are incredibly grateful for (Wells Fargo and the LA Kings’) donation,” Batson said. “Our students have been incredibly resilient and persistent, but unfortunately too many of them still don’t have the technology that they need to thrive in this new, distanced learning environment.”
Nam McGrail, senior vice president of partnership activation with the LA Kings at AEG, spoke about how the event came about.
“We came up with this concept (for the event) because we heard there was an overwhelming need, especially in South LA, for (technological) devices. SoLa and the Partnership for LA Schools shared studies with us and about 40% of the families that they surveyed, the children in those families didn’t have the proper devices for distance learning.”
Wells Fargo, as a financial partner with the LA Kings, was “quick to hop on board” with the “Team Up For Tech” event, according to McGrail. “From there we worked to identify a partnership with the SoLa I CAN Foundation and The Partnership for LA Schools because of the tremendous work they were doing within the (South LA) communities that they serve,” McGrail said.
LA Kings player Trevor Moore and LA Kings alumni player Daryl Evans spoke at the event and helped hand out the laptops to the selected families and students.
Moore said that it felt good to be a part of the event.
“I didn’t realize how staggering the numbers were of people that have Wi-Fi or (access to technology). They shut down the schools, and these kids need to be able to learn and interact with their friends. It’s a part of being a kid.”
Evans said, “To be on the giving side of things, it means so much. These kids are the future of our world and our communities. … It’s great to be able to give something back to our community that supported us for so many years in LA.”
The SoLa I CAN Foundation plans to build a tech and entrepreneurship center by summer, according to Francois. The center will provide classes in robotics, coding, recording music, graphic design, etc., with a goal of teaching youth and students the business behind each class, how to be a part of those businesses and how to work in those industries.
Francois said the SoLa I CAN Foundation plans to rent out part of the 100,000-square-foot SoLa “Beehive” Campus to restaurants and community-owned businesses. “We want to keep the community here and build the community to build the economy for the community,” Francois said.
“We’re making a dent ...” Francois continued. “I do feel good about what we’re doing, and it takes partnerships with sponsors like the LA Kings and Wells Fargo because we can’t do it alone. We still have work to do, (but) I feel hopeful. Getting a laptop to one student is a milestone. … So, one student at a time.”