How Microsoft, TechSoup, and 1000 student volunteers reduced the digital divide for 100,000 individuals.

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Net Literacy
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Net Literacy's mission is to increase computer access, computer and Internet literacy, and Internet safety awareness, while teaching students life skills, job skills, and providing youths an opportunity to serve their community.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

What is Net Literacy?

Net Literacy is a “student-empowered” all volunteer nonprofit founded by middle schools students in 2003 and where 1000 students volunteers comprise 50% of the board of directors and conduct all of the day-to-day volunteering, planning, and grant writing. Working with TechSoup and Microsoft, we have refurbished thousands and thousands of computers increasing computer access to schools and nonprofits impacting 120,000 individuals in four states.



Our Honorary Co-Chairs are US Senators Bayh and Lugar, and our Honorary Board is comprised of both Mayors and Congressmen. We lobbied members of the Indiana General Assembly in 2005, resulting in the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 85 or “the Net Literacy Week Resolution” to promote digital inclusion and increasing computer access. In 2009, House Concurrent Resolution 95 passed Net Literacy’s Safe Connects Resolution which calls for Public Educational and Government Channels to carry Net Literacy’s Internet safety awareness videos. Net Literacy’s “wiki-management” style has increase computer access from coast-to-coast and throughout the world. Net Literacy was selected by the European Union Study on Digital Inclusion as one of the 91 “most promising good practice initiatives” based upon an investigation of 32 countries including the EU Member States, the United States, Norway, Iceland, Canada, and India. The US Internet Industry Association and Net Literacy jointly released a white paper to the FCC and Congress proposing a national digital inclusion blueprint entitled “Digital Inclusion: Bringing The Rest Of America Online With Broadband” and Microsoft highlighted Net Literacy’s innovativeness in its publication, Innovating for Inclusion – A Digital Inclusion Guide for Those Leading the Way.”

For its empowerment of student volunteers and because of the contribution made to increasing digital inclusion, Net Literacy has been honored by our nation's leadership, including President Clinton in NYC, Colin Powell in Washington DC, and President Bush in a White House ceremony.


How does Net Literacy reduce the digital divide?

Student volunteers have created four core programs to refurbish computers and ensure that they are effectively utilized:


The Computer Connects program repurposes thousands of computers six days each week in high schools, colleges, and repurposing facilities with XP and Windows 2000. Schools use the computers to build computer labs, for classrooms, and to provide computers to families not having a computer at their home. Student volunteers dispose of unusable computers in an EPA compliant manner, preventing computers and monitors from being delivered to landfills. This is especially important since monitors that are buried in landfills have toxins that will affect the quality of life of succeeding generations of Americans. Net Literacy has been able to repurpose thousands of computers because of our partnership with TechSoup and with Microsoft.


Senior Connects ( promotes senior citizen computer and Internet literacy by supplying computers and training materials or by building public computer labs and teaching senior citizens.


Safe Connects ( effectively educates students about Internet safety because students working with the Department of Education have created the content. There are three components to this program. Student volunteers teach using safety programs developed by students for students in the schools after school to parents and children, student created PSA run on cable television systems and on broadcast stations (, and three 30 minute television videos have been created and produced by student volunteers.


Community Connects ( has built hundreds of computer labs to increase computer access to the underserved by providing computers to HUD and Section 8 apartments, community centers, faith-based organizations, public libraries, schools, and nonprofits. One computer at a time – Community Connects increases computer access where the digital divide is the greatest.


How does Net Literacy make a difference?

Hello. My name is Dan Kent. As an eighth grader, I taught computer skills class at our public library. A senior citizen told me that it was too bad that his wheelchair-bound neighbors could not leave their facility and learn how to send emails to their grandkids. After determining that no local program taught mobility-impaired senior citizens inside their independent and assisted living facilities, I donated the money I had been saving to buy a car to pay to form a nonprofit. Together with my middle school friends, we began to teach senior citizens computer and Internet skills. Our nonprofit was originally incorporated as Senior Connects, with officers and a board of directors comprised only of middle school students. As the scope of our organization increased, we renamed ourselves Net Literacy and invited adult mentors to oversee our governance and financial management and comprise 50% of our board.

Digital inclusion starts with a computer. While computer literacy training and safety training are essential components, the foundation of the program is determined by the quality of the operating system that is used and the partners that an organization chooses. We started refurbishing with a donation of licenses from Microsoft, as they found a way to help an expanding team of middle school students be able to repurpose computers to reduce the digital divide. Later, our partnership with TechSoup and thanks to Freshstart and other terrific Microsoft programs, we increased digital inclusion in community after community.

Different constituents provided different challenges. As an example, many of the senior citizens that we teach are mobility impaired, lack reliable transportation, or have tried taking computer classes and left feeling as if they have “failed.” At an average of 83 years “young,” they also have visual impairments and 25% have early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia. Consequently, we constructed public computer labs inside independent living facilities so that the computers became part of the seniors’ homes. The Microsoft magnifying function proved very helpful and we use Windows because it's the most popular O/S on the planet and enables everyone to use the computers lab. As the senior citizens passed through the digital divide, student volunteers progressed through the intergenerational divide. Most importantly, we changed the teaching paradigm by pairing one student to one resident. Friendships were established. The intergenerational gap narrowed. Student volunteers learned together with the senior citizens they had “adopted” – and we still receive packages of cookies from seniors we taught years ago.

A mobility-impaired senior’s world tends to grow a little smaller when they are confined to their facility, and empowering them to use a computer to access the Internet and email their family helps their world grow a little larger. Many seniors feel that they are losing contact with their grandchildren since today’s youth don't write letters. We originally empowered seniors with Hotmail and now use Live as part of our training to remove these barriers.

To increase digital inclusion, our team of student volunteers decided to provide computers to establish or expand hundreds of computer labs in schools, public libraries, faith based organizations, and nonprofits. Using a wiki-management style, we made our methodologies free available to everyone by creating a series of websites. We also have kept our promise to “never charge any individual or nonprofit a fee or charge for the services or computers that we provide.” We couldn't have had this impact without Microsoft and TechSoup!

Submission Category
Transformations to Maximize Impact