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Microsoft gives devices to Mentor Role Model

SoVaNow.com / June 13, 2019
Microsoft has donated 10 new Surface Pro tablets to the Tri-County Community Action Agency’s Youth Mentor Role Model Program to provide computers to youths who do not have access to a device at home. The donation was sparked by a Microsoft employee who once was a mentor in the program.

“We can’t thank Microsoft enough for choosing our program to receive this gift,” said Petrina Carter, president and CEO of TCCAA.

The SurfacePro3 tablets with covers and keyboards, will be used in the Washington Coleman Community Center’s student activity room. The donation was part of Microsoft’s TechSpark program, which is a company initiative in Southern Virginia and five other regions to foster economic opportunity is rural areas.

“Now students will have a place with the latest technology to go online to do their homework, research colleges or job training programs to pursue, and even provide a place where groups like our local Girls Who Code Club can explore computer coding,” said Jeremy Satterfield, Microsoft’s TechSpark community engagement manager

Microsoft’s TechSpark program has been working with Mentor Role Model since TechSpark’s inception. TCCAA, originally a credit union that helped low income communities do things such as find a home or get insurance, merged with the Mentor Role Model program in March as part of an effort to expand TCCAA youth outreach departments.

“We match those mentors with the youths, and they are able to do exercises whether here in the office, they can meet the child at school, or they can take them out into the community,” said Carter.

The TCCAA and the Mentor Role Model board agreed that the merger would help both organizations complete their goals, and the Mentor Role Model leadership team remained largely in place. Carter explained that TCCAA had acquired Mentor Role Model mostly to provide it with a stronger financial backing and help fill its ranks of personnel.

“When I looked out into the community I saw mentor role model was already here. There’s no need in duplicating what’s already in the community, so in speaking with them more it was decided that one of the strongest ways to support that program was to bring it under Tri-County as a program of ours,” Carter said.

She said the decision was spurred by a notice that children between five and 18 were one area that TCCAA had seemed to overlook previously.

“When we were looking into the community to see what were the gaps in service areas, one of the gaps I noticed was in our youth ages five to 18. It’s one of the areas where poverty is above thirty percent for that age group, but we didn’t have any programs that were there,” Carter said.

One of the program’s immediate goals is to expose children to experiences they previously had been unable to have. Carter explained that while children have access to computers at school, they often do not have access to one at home to do their homework. These computers would be educational in nature and kept at the TCCAA office in the Washington Coleman Community Center.

“They’re smart tablets and they come with Microsoft 10. They’re fully loaded so the youth will be able to come in and do their homework assignments,” Carter said.

The computers will be shared between roughly 25 youth who are in the Mentor Role Model program. Presently there are only five mentors for these youths, though 10 more are being processed through TCCAA’s background checks, mandatory to be a mentor.

“We’re always looking for new mentors. They can contact us at any time to enroll and we have children who we can put with them,” Carter said.

Satterfield once was a mentor in the program and took a leadership role as a member of the board of directors. He was instrumental to making the donation and said that his time as a mentor showed him the importance of supporting the program.

“The hour and a half I spent with my mentee were wonderful. It helped me grow as a person,” Satterfield recalled.

Satterfield was already well positioned to make the donation due to his previous community service experience and previous career experience before joining Microsoft.

“I was on the board of directors a hundred years ago, and also was a mentor with the Mentor Role Model Program, and the in my role with Mid-Atlantic Broadband, we did a lot helping out Tri-County Community Action Agency as well as Mentor Role Model, so it was just a natural fit for me even once I changed hats,” he said.

The Microsoft donation fits into a larger wave of expansions in the mentor program. During the summer Vaughn Wellington, a professional photographer from Danville, will teach a photography course to mentor program members. There is also a Girls Who Code program that Tri-County hosts at the high school during the summer and a club of the same name. The tablets would be useful to all of these programs.

“Hopefully we’ll also be able to do a Girls [Who] Code program through this office because we now have enough technology to support it,” Carter said.

Microsoft has also been reaching out to other parts of the community. TechSpark has worked to increase computer science education, including by expanding the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program in southern Virginia high schools to offer more students opportunities to learn computer science and digital skills. They have partnered with, among others, Code.org, Girls Who Code and DigiGirlz to offer more students in the region computer science and digital skills learning opportunities.

In April, Microsoft announced a partnership with Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation to build the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston that will serve southern Virginia as a center and collaborative workspace.

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