Markevis Gideon: NERDiT NOW works to close digital divide for local students

Last Spring, when most Delaware public schools shifted to remote, online learning due to COVID-19, several students at Warner Elementary found themselves without access to a computer.

Kelly Green, school therapist with Children and Families First, took action by calling the NERDiT Foundation, a non-profit in Newport that gives youths in underprivileged communities refurbished computers for free.

Green spoke with Rysheema Dixon, a Wilmington City Council member. “She connected me with the NERDiT Foundation who donated 40 computers,” says Green.

NERDiT arrived at the Wilmington school in a retrofitted ambulance, the foundation’s mobile repair store. They showed the students and their families how to log on to Zoom and offered them free tech and repairs support. “They also volunteered to speak with (Warner) students about their career paths.”

“If you don’t have access to technology, you’re going to be left behind,” says Markevis Gideon, 32, founder and managing director of NERDiT NOW. Established in 2015, NERDiT NOW collects, repairs, sells and buys digital devices. It helps sustain the NERDiT Foundation, which aims to end the digital divide.

Established in 2018, the foundation has raised over $56,000 and donated 5,000 computers to non-profits and community centers that cater to youths in the tri-state area and in four countries, including Kenya and Ghana.

In 2015, Gideon returned to Delaware after studying and living in China for five years. He quickly noticed that some of his friends and family members didn’t own computers. Not owning a computer and lacking computer skills can set people up for missed job and education opportunities.

When a woman showed up at his company hoping to find a used computer she could afford for her young son, Gideon gave her one for free. This gave Gideon and his business partners, Jonathan Hoxter and Jake Voorhees, the idea to start the NerdiT Foundation.

However, it’s not just access to a computer that people need at home, they also need an internet connection. According to an Associated Press report from June 2019, nearly three percent of Delaware students lack access to the Internet, while 16% do not have a computer at home.

To mitigate these issues, communication and media organizations, such as Comcast and WhyFly, have modified their services to accommodate low-income families. For instance, NERDiT partners with Comcast to offer low-income families free internet for six months with the monthly fee increasing to just $10 per month through Comcast Essentials.

And through funding from the federal CARES Act, NERDiT NOW was able to refurbish over 1,000 computers while the state invested $20 million to expand rural wireless broadband coverage.

To create a skilled labor force and teach computer skills, Gideon, who double majored in computer science and accounting at Widener University, says his company also offers free IT training and certifications to youths who qualify. It also established computer labs in designated community centers and non-profits, where computer skills are taught.

“It is my moral obligation to give back to the community,” says Gideon. “Closing the digital gap, creating jobs and keeping a skilled labor force in the state makes for a stronger economy.”

Interns, volunteers, and employees help run NERDiT NOW and its foundation. And in January, Gideon received a Governor’s Volunteer Award.

Partners that help the foundation provide its community services include:  Delaware Community Foundation, Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, Discover Bank, Capital One, Barclays Bank, and Wilmington Alliance.

NERDiT also formed a partnership with the Red Clay Consolidated School District, which donates older computers to the company, which in turn refurbishes the equipment and returns it to Red Clay for a donation to students’ families.

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Adriana Camacho-Church
Adriana is a freelance journalist who has written for newspapers and magazines in California and Delaware. When not organizing programs for the Hispanic community for New Castle County Libraries she dances in the kitchen while cooking her favorite Latino dishes.