Institute helps bridge youth digital divide

By Imani Burrell
YO: Durham Intern
the Durham VOICE


Are you a kid who needs a computer at home or unable to get to one when needed?

If so, Kramden Institute, located at 4915 Prospectus Drive, Suite-J in Durham, is a nonprofit willing to help if you’re willing to help yourself.

C.E. Jordan High School sophomore Josh Turner works on outline for English I class. Depending on what class is in the lab, it can be hard to get a computer.
Photo By: Imani Burrell

At Kramden they take donated computers and give them to families that are in need.

According to 2010 U.S Census Data nationwide 81.4 percent of individuals live in a home with a computer. North Carolina isn’t too far behind with 79.1 percent of residents living in a house with a computer.

For households making $50,000 or more per year, 92 percent of homes have a computer.

Compare that to the 65.9 percent of households making less than $50,000 per year that have computers.

In a low wealth community like Northeast Central Durham this could include many kids.

Michael Absensour is executive director of Kramden Institute and grew up around computers as his father made a living at IBM. He said Kramden started in 2003 as the local father and son project of Mark and Ned Dibner in the basement of their house.

“They wanted to rebuild computers and give them to kids in need at Ned’s school,” said Absensour. “They started putting them together for one student and then began doing them for everyone.”

Absensour said is 2003 they donated 60 computers to kids and their family.  That number grew to 2,500 in 2012 in 59 counties across the state.

In order for a student to receive one of these computers they must meet certain criteria.

First they must be in school and enrolled in grades 3-12. Secondly they must not have a working computer at home. Lastly the student has to be nominated by a teacher.

“After a student asks a teacher to nominate them the teacher contacts us,” said Absensour. “Then we can see about getting them their computer.”

Absensour said that having a computer at home is a big help for the entire family. Once a student is nominated and their computer is ready, they come in and Kramden staff shows them how it works as far as software and parts. He said even parents ask lots of questions.

“You can’t get too far if you don’t have the tech skills,” said Absensour. “And computers are expensive, there’s no getting around it.”

Absensour said he “sees the digital divide in this area” and the need for Kramden Institute.

The “digital divide” refers to the gap between people who have easy access to digital technology and communication and those that do not.

Every 3rd Saturday and every Wednesday, up to 50 volunteers come in to help refurbish the donated computers. Anyone 12 or older is allowed to come in and be one of Kramden’s volunteers.

At least 1,100 volunteers come in a year.

In the summer months they have many college and high school students to coming in and refurbishing computers. Kramden’s location in Research Triangle Park brings in a mix of people from local tech companies and also allows for plenty of computer donations.

Absensour said that some companies have team building exercises and bring employees to Kramden to volunteer. They even recently had a 2-day volunteer session at Lenovo.

Kramden isn’t picky when it comes to computers but they don’t take printers in their donations or computers that don’t have flat monitors.

Once computers are worked on and cleaned, they are given away to students. Kramden has given away about 11,500 total computers to North Carolina counties. In 2011, Kramden gave away 2,200 computers and their goal for last year was to give away 2,500 computers.

Kramden has been at its Prospectus Drive location for 3 years and hopes to expand the building soon. There are three full-time employees at the institute and Absensour is adding a fourth soon.

Cari DelMariani is the director of events and education. She oversees the volunteer effort at Kramden. She started working at Kramden in 2010.

“The position appealed to me because it gave me the opportunity to give back and help students in need of technology,” said DelMariani. She said that she enjoys seeing the faces of the kids once they get their computers.

“It is always exciting to see their faces as they walk out with their very own computer which will be an essential tool for their future,” she said.

Absensour said that kids receiving the computers are grateful. He said he receives lots of hand written thank you notes.

He said the need is great even in local wealthier communities and having a computer at home is a big help.

“In schools you have so many kids just waiting to use computers,” Absensour said. “Everybody isn’t connected digitally believe or not.”

If your interested in volunteering, donating a computer, or learning more about Kramden visit their website