December 01, 2005 – During the holiday season, local families will pause from their busy schedules to help those in need. The holiday spirit-no matter which holiday you celebrate-often inspires us to feed the hungry, cloth the needy and reach out to those less fortunate in our community and beyond.
This holiday, Indy’s Child profiles three amazing teens whose efforts touch the lives of people both in our community and around the world all year. Their innovative ideas and dedication to causes they care about have earned each of them distinguished volunteer awards this year.
We hope their stories will inspire your own family to volunteer-whether through new or continued efforts-during the holidays and all year long.
A chance conversation three years ago lead Daniel Kent on a volunteer odyssey that has brought computer access and skills to thousands of senior citizens and low-income children across Central Indiana.
As a volunteer with the Teen Volunteer Corps at the Carmel Clay Public Library, Kent served as an aide in a senior computer course. Following one session, a gentleman told Kent that he had a friend who would love to learn about computers but who couldn’t come to the library because of mobility problems.
“I strongly felt no one should be denied the opportunity to learn, especially since computers are becoming so important today,” remembers Kent, now a junior at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School.
Kent did an informal survey of local retirement communities and found that no one offered computer classes at the facilities. With the help of a few friends-and the generosity of the library, which allowed him to use its curriculum – Kent went to the Forum at the Crossing and taught his first class.
Eventually, Kent created Senior Connects, a nonprofit organization in which teen volunteers teach computer and Internet skills to seniors, often on a one-on-one basis. Kent spent $4,000 of his own money, which he had been saving to buy a car, on legal fees to incorporate as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
After fine-tuning the curriculum, Kent made it available on a Web site (www.seniorconnects.org) so that other teens could use the training methodology and begin their own programs.
Soon, Kent found he needed to expand the scope of Senior Connects.
“We ran into the problem that many seniors don’t have access to computers,” he explained. “So, we started to get into the computer refurbishing business.”
Senior Connects has provided computers or advanced computer access to more than 70 different retirement homes in central Indiana, reaching more than 11,000 seniors.
Today an estimated 150 teen volunteers are involved in Senior Connects. The organization is managed by a group of teen board members with the help of a few adult mentors. Students from a variety of central Indiana schools are involved.
Last year, Kent and his co-volunteers realized that seniors aren’t the only group in Central Indiana who need help gaining computer access. They decided to expand their efforts and started another nonprofit organization called Net Literacy Corporation, designed to increase computer availability and Internet literacy for underserved youth, families and seniors.
Net Literacy’s first initiative, called Youth Connects, provided a dozen computers to Indianapolis families on public assistance. Other future components of Net Literacy include:
- Safe Connects: To educate children about Internet safety. A curriculum is now being developed for elementary and middle school children.
- Computer Connects: To upgrade or create new computer labs in low-income housing facilities.
- EPA Compliant Computer Recycling.
- Net Literacy Week: Slated for April 2006, youth are working to organize computer awareness fairs around the state. Senators Richard Lugar and Evan Bayh are honorary chairs.
Kent is proud of what he and his friends have created.
“I hope the organization continues to experience growth and that one day everyone will have equal opportunities to access the Internet,” Kent says. “The Internet is bringing together everyone throughout the world-except for those who don’t have access to it. Today, that’s really becoming a disability.”
Kent encourages other teens to get involved where they see a need.
“Never be afraid to dream, and dream big,” he says. “With hard work and team work, anything is possible.”
In 2005, Net Literacy has been recognized by President George Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. This fall, Kent earned one of the inaugural Power of Children Awards presented by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to honor and empower the selfless efforts of middle and high school students throughout Indiana. As one of four winners, Kent earned a $2,000 recognition award to further his work and a Sam H. Jones Community Service Scholarship to be used for post-secondary education at IUPUI.
To learn more about volunteering or donating to Senior Connects or Net Literacy, visit their Web sites at www.seniorconnects.org and www.netliteracy.org