Maybe like many of you, I have been walking by the Byte Back location at the corner of 9th Street and Monroe many times. And although I kind of knew what they do, I wanted to find out what the story is behind this non-profit organization. Especially after our good neighbor First Time Computers gave up their location on 12th Street NE, and I learned that their operation merged with Byte Back, I wanted to find out more.
Many thanks to Kelley Ellsworth, the Executive Director, who agreed to answer my questions, and with a lot of enthusiasm provided many details about her organization.
– Please introduce yourself to our readers:
I am a fourth generation Washingtonian who is deeply invested in our city. I have four children, two attend DCPS schools and two are DCPS graduates.
– What is your relation to Brookland? Do you live here?
I live in Ward three, but have grown very fond of Brookland. I think it has a warm, friendly, small-town feel, which is so refreshing to find in a big city!
– What is Byte Back? How did it start?
Byte Back was founded in 1997 by Glenn Stein, a computer professional and community leader, to address the growing digital divide between low-income, disadvantaged people and those with the benefit of higher education. Our mission is to improve economic opportunity by providing computer training and employment readiness skills to low-income residents of the Washington Metropolitan area.
– How has the organization developed over time?
Over the past six years, Byte Back grew from 2 to 25 sites and expanded the number of students taught annually from 293 to over 1,400 (478%). We also added a number of industry recognized IT certification training programs that lead to mid-level jobs that pay living wages. Byte Back was a two-time finalist for the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Non-Profit Management (2010 and 2012).
– How did you connect with First Time Computers?
About five years ago, we began purchasing refurbished computers from First Time Computers to give to the graduates of our programs. A couple years later, we began teaching our A+ certification classes at First Time Computers, where the instructors could access various computer equipment, tools and supplies to show to the students. Soon thereafter, we began sending our A+ certification graduates for an 80-hour internship at First Time Computers, where they got hands-on experiencing refurbishing computers using a variety of methodology. The internships gave the students something valuable to put on their resumes, gave them the trouble-shooting experience they needed to pass the certification exam, and also provided a boost to their self-esteem which grew from giving back to the community by providing computers to low-income families.
– How will you fit both operations in your current space?
In February we began renting a new refurbishing facility in Deanwood, just a few doors down from the Deanwood Metro. We held our ribbon cutting ceremony on April 12 and began distributing newly refurbished computers. This new location is about the same size at the First Time Computers location, but is more affordable for us to rent.
– Were you able to keep some of the First Time Computer Team Members?
Yes! Our Logistics Coordinator, Terry Johnson, worked at First Time Computers. Our Director of Refurbishing and Repairs, Ronald Wade, and our Refurbisher, Jonathan Ladson, both took A+ through Byte Back and completed internships at First Time Computers.
– How can Brookland residents benefit of Byte Back?
We offer a wide variety of computer classes at Byte Back, from basic computer literacy classes to Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, HTML and PC Hardware to various IT certification courses such as Microsoft Office Specialist, IC3, MCITP, A+, Net+ and Security+. Our beginning classes are free to low-income individuals and often we can help a student find funding for our more advanced classes. We also have two computer in our lobby which are available for community members to use at any time. Our classroom computers are also available for use when there is not class taking place. Every Spring we hold a huge community outreach event called Community Computer Day, with a full day of free technology workshops, a cookout picnic, a deejay, moon bounce, face painting, cotton candy, etc. This event just took place on May 18. Despite the rain, we had close to 200 participants! We also hold a one-hour tour twice a month when you can meet some of our staff, hear about our work, and hear directly from at least one student.
– How can Brookland residents help Byte Back?
We are always looking for more students, volunteers and donors as well as employers willing to provide internships and/or jobs for our students. Our biggest need is for instructors and assistant instructors to teach our most basic classes. You do not have to be an IT professional to teach these classes – just someone who is comfortable using a computer. We also need instructors to teach our more advanced classes, as well as individuals to create and/or revise curricula, help with fundraising, serve on our board of directors, or take on a special project. We also have a need for “one-time” volunteers to drop in an work one-on-one with our students on their resume, cover letter or interview skills, or to help them keep up with their classwork.
– Anything else you would like our readers to know?
Under the Community Benefits Agreement for the 901 Monroe Street development project (the Colonel Brooks Tavern property), Byte Back will receive $25,000 to purchase new computers for our lab and our two classrooms. We encourage members of the Brookland community who have not already taken Byte Back classes to stop by and take advantage of this opportunity.
– How can our readers contact you?
Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at 202-529-3395 or just come on in!