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Net Literacy - Programs Serving Students, People with Disabilities, and Seniors

  • Published: 2011-11-12 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-06) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: Net Literacy works to increase digital literacy and inclusion while giving student volunteers life and job skills by serving communities.

Net Literacy works passionately to increase digital literacy and inclusion while giving student volunteers' life and job skills, serving communities in the process.

One day in the year 2003, a senior citizen asked a middle school student for assistance because their neighbors, who experienced forms of mobility impairments and resided at an independent living facility, couldn't leave their apartments to learn how to access the Internet and send email messages to their grandchildren. From this request, Net Literacy was born. Only eight years later, thousands of students volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours, using technology to increase digital inclusion and literacy for greater than 170,000 people.

Net Literacy works passionately to increase digital literacy and inclusion while giving student volunteers' life and job skills, serving communities in the process. The middle school student who founded the organization stated, "While one person can make a difference, at Net Literacy, together we can change the world." The same middle school student used the money he was saving for a car to start this magnificent nonprofit organization.

Net Literacy is, 'student-empowered,' meaning half of the members of the Board of Directors are students themselves. These students writer the organization's grants, set its mission and priorities, as well as volunteer and provide services in the community. The organization teaches students job skills, entrepreneurship, as well as leadership skills.

Net Literacy has partnerships with hundreds of organizations to include:

Over the past four years alone the organization has donated more than 15,000 computers it has refurbished to schools, libraries, and nonprofit organizations. Students volunteering through Net Literacy perform all of the work related to the refurbishment of these computers; they never charge those who receive them for services or equipment.

Net Literacy's Computer Connects Program

A number of schools work together every Saturday with the goal of refurbishing thousands of computers to support the Senior Connects and Community Connects programs. On weekdays, high school and college students also work to refurbish computers, presenting them for use in schools. The computers used in schools are used in classrooms, computer labs, and also provide computers to families who do not have a computer in their homes.

When the students volunteering for Net Literacy come across a computer that is unusable in a way that is compliant with the EPA, they dispose of it in the appropriate manner. Unusable computers and monitors are prevented from ending up in landfills. The matter is important considering the fact that monitors buried in landfills contain toxins that have the potential to affect the quality of life of future generations.

Net Literacy's Senior Connects Program

The Senior Connects program started in 2003, providing services to senior citizens. The program was Net Literacy's first program and was known as the, 'Senior Connects Corporation,' for about a year until more programs were added. The company then changed its name to, 'Net Literacy.'

Students instructing SeniorsThe Senior Connects program has a mission of increasing digital inclusion and computer access at independent living facilities, retirement apartments, and senior centers. Greater than 11,000 seniors received computer and Internet access by the year 2004. The end of the year 2008 found the Senior Connects program giving computer to more than 100 senior facilities, positively impacting the lives of 44,000 people. Two years later in the year 2010, the Senior Connects program had impacted the lives of more than 50,000 people.

Seniors are often times excited to learn how to use the Internet, particularly where the idea of staying in touch with family members through email is concerned. Equally important is the fact that the services Net Literacy provides finds student volunteers gaining invaluable interpersonal and leadership skills to compliment their technical skills. The Senior Connects program also has chapter that invite senior students into the computer labs of high schools once the school day has ended so the students can help to teach seniors. Some locations find students providing computers and facilities have agreed to also provide broadband Internet access.

The Net Literacy Alliance

Trade associations by the hundreds in the year 2008 in America helped to organize their memberships with the goals of facilitating communications, good practices, and the creation of synergy. Unfortunately organizations, while sharing a mission of digital literacy and inclusion, did not have any such association. The occasional digital inclusion conferences and forums that were being held also had a history of un-sustainability. By the next year, the FCC had called on the public to provide comments and input as a National Broadband Plan was in the process of creation. Net Literacy participated in a number of groups, co-authoring many white papers, and serving on adoption and use committees.

The mission of the Net Literacy Alliance it to serve as a destiny for collaboration of organizations who have a shared mission of digital inclusion to discuss good practices, collaborate, and work together with funders and granters that are committed to bridging the digital divide through promotion of digital inclusion. Net Literacy Alliance provided the first comprehensive database filled with hundreds of United States digital literacy and inclusion nonprofit organizations. It also served as a form of, 'clearing house,' as dozens of nonprofit organizations across the nation and around the world sent emails every single month asking for program assistance and information.

Net Literacy Alliance

"We have traveled from Washington to Hong Kong and from Europe to Africa meeting with nonprofits, ISPs, and government agencies while promoting digital inclusion and digital literacy. Our "best practices" site has received the endorsement by Internet associations representing 260,000 Internet companies on six continents."

National Impact

"We have been at the forefront of impacting national policy by writing white papers, co-hosting digital literacy summits, and working national associations that promote broadband adoption. The Federal Communications Commission called and interviewed us as they crafted America's National Broadband Plan. Three of our programs were cited as good practices in the Nation Broadband Plan that was presented to Congress."

Service Learning

"Through service learning, we learn and gain by helping others. Our programs increase student success by teaching leadership skills, group dynamics, job skills, and life skills. One person at a time, we go where the digital divide is the greatest and work hard to make a difference in our communities."


"Our programs have received dozens of awards because of the difference that thousands of student volunteers have made impacting 100,000s of individuals. We have received awards from our nation's leadership, including two American Presidents."

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