Siraj Cook-Davis, 12, and his 11-year-old sister, Brooklyn Pittman, couldn’t stop smiling as they crossed the digital divide Wednesday, Sept. 23.
Masks hid their mouths, but the sparkle in their eyes made it clear the L. Thomas Heck Middle School students were pleased they no longer have to share a single laptop with their little brother, Steven Pittman, a kindergartner at Barbara B. Robey Elementary School, thanks to Litchfield Elementary School District’s partnership with Desert Financial Credit Union and Laptops 4 Learning.
“Everyone will have their own laptop now,” the trio’s mother, Andrea Davis, said as her family picked up Siraj and Brooklyn’s laptops during a small celebration at the Litchfield Park middle school before a drive-thru distribution in the parking lot.
In all, 100 laptops were distributed to students from the two schools.
The siblings’ first order of business after setting up their laptops when they got home Wednesday?
“Homework,” they said in unison with their mother.
The DFCU VIP Rally hosted by LESD was attended by 15 students and their families, both schools’ principals, and representatives from the credit union and Laptops 4 Learning. Members of Pavilion of Praise Christian Church provided decorations and refreshments for the socially distanced event.
In addition to supporting students, teachers and schools through scholarship, recognition, mentoring and other programs, the nonprofit credit union founded by teachers in 1939 raises money each year to purchase school supplies for districts across the state, but this year was different, DFCU Executive Vice President Ron Amstutz said.
“With in-person school delayed or modified, we learned that the usual need for notebooks and backpacks was less this year. Instead, we learned about the tremendous need for reliable and affordable technology for students,” Mr. Amstutz told those assembled. “We heard about multiple siblings trying to share one laptop, and even heard about students who were using their cellphones to try to complete assignments and write papers.”
At the beginning of September, DFCU officials challenged its members and employees to raise $20,000 in 25 days for Laptops 4 Learning, a Phoenix-based nonprofit dedicated to ensuring students aren’t left behind because their families cannot afford a laptop computer.
“We offered to match up to $20,000 as well,” he said.
Donations poured in, surpassing that $20,000 goal in four days. As of Monday, Sept. 21, DFCU members and employees had contributed $40,000, giving DFCU’s foundation $60,000 to purchase 300 laptops for L4L to distribute to LESD students, as well as students in Phoenix’s Cartwright Elementary School District and North Star Independent Living Services, which supports youths and young adults in foster care.
The drive will continue through Friday, Sept. 25. To donate, visit desertfinancial.com/LaptopDrive.
Shelly Hornback, LESD community relations director, said the 104-year-old district’s 16 elementary and middle schools serve students in four cities.
“Your roots are right there with teachers,” she told Mr. Amstutz and Emma Garcia, the credit union’s assistant vice president for community relations, who also serves as Desert Financial Foundation’s executive director. “We welcome your support. We need it desperately and we are grateful for it.”
Heck Middle School Principal Kristen Casillas and Robey Elementary Principal Amanda Acosta both echoed those sentiments
“We’re just so grateful; our families are grateful,” Ms. Casillas said. “Having a reliable device makes a real difference.”
“This is really humbling. We have seen some really rough stuff” as education has changed rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Acosta said. “We also see resiliency, hope and love. Your generous gift ... will help these students shine.”
Laptops 4 Learning Executive Director Brenda Powell told those assembled she and L4L founder Dwayne Baker and Business Development Director Greg Powell were excited to see the students receive their laptops.
“We know that your future is too important not to have access to technology,” she said.
The organization usually provides laptops to students at a reduced cost, Ms. Powell said. Thanks to DFCU’s generosity, however, all 300 laptops were free to the students.
“Thanks very much to Desert Financial Credit Union,” she said. “Without partnerships, we would not be able to do what we do. Churches, businesses, nonprofits stepping in, that’s what it’s all about.”
Sebastian Pedroza, a 9-year-old student at Robey elementary, said he was happy to receive his laptop because, “I don’t have to be working on a tablet anymore.”
His mother, Mariana Pedroza, said she’ll no longer have to pause her work to let her son use her laptop.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said of the donation.
“I always wanted my own laptop,” Sebastian’s classmate, 9-year-old Chloe Clark, said. She was looking forward to seeing her teacher online Thursday morning without having to use her brother’s laptop or her phone.
Rosa Vincent, who serves as guardian for her cousin, 8-year-old Mya Esparza, said she loved seeing her young charge receive a laptop.
“I actually left my job to stay home to help her” with distance learning, Ms. Vincent said. “She had a small tablet and she wasn’t able to do the same things as other students. This is really going to help.”
Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-963-1697.