YMCA Digital Connectors program graduates ten students

The Digital Connector graduates were joined on the stage by Comcast Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Mark Reilly From left: Mr. Reilly, graduates Tully McDonough, Ian Shea, Jared Livingston, Zale Narkiewicz, Evan Kristal, Patrick McDonough (hidden), Goncalo Rego, Joseph Oliver and Lorraine Menezes; assistant Jai Berger and program facilitator Ray Whitaker. — Photo by Tony Omer

At a ceremony last week for graduates of the Digital Connectors program (DigiCon), a Comcast-sponsored digital literacy and community service project at the YMCA, the cable giant announced a new donation on top of its ongoing support.

Mark Reilly, Comcast senior vice president for government and regulatory relations for the Northeast Division, announced that his company would donate $25,000 to the Y for additional technological support to rebuild the computer lab.

The cable and broadcast company has donated a total of $180,000 since 2009 to fund the purchase of audio/visual and other technical equipment for the YMCA.

In his remarks, Mr. Reilly said that this year’s graduating class is joining over 2,000 teens nationwide in 44 cities that have completed the program designed to increase teen digital literacy.

Ten Martha’s Vineyard students ranging in age from 13 to 18 took part in the graduation ceremonies held at Studio 57, the performance/audio-visual studio housed in Alex’s Place at the Y.

The graduates spent four to six hours each week completing the eight-month digital and financial accountability curriculum. The 56 hours of required community service included “Elderly Tech Tutoring.” The group offered their assistance to help elderly, and anyone else, learn about the use of cell phones, computers and other electronic devices. The graduates earned a Cisco Information Technology Certification and received Gateway Netbook laptop computers, a digital recorder.

During the last two weeks of the program the group made a 12 minute video titled, “Heros Among Us.” The film included interviews with members of the Martha’s Vineyard Tactical Response Team who volunteered to help after the Marathon bombing, along with stills of the bombing aftermath. The film was a touching tribute.

Program facilitator Ray Whitaker said that the Vineyard program, now in its second year, added to the original Comcast curriculum. These included lessons on human interaction with an emphasis on eye contact, firm handshakes and listening skills and a section on the art of debate. The debate topic was smoking in public. Jai Berger, a mentor for the Y teen center, was Mr. Whitaker’s program assistant.

Kaylea Moore, aid to State representative Tim Madden, presented the graduates with certificates recognizing their contributions to the community through the program.

Graduate Ian Shay of Edgartown said that he was initially surprised by the focus on financial basics at the beginning of the program. He said that they learned about buying cars and homes and responsible personal bookkeeping. He said his fellow students became so involved in the debate sessions that they continued discussing the debates after the class.

Rebecca Fracassa, Comcast’s director of community investment for the greater Boston region, was responsible for bringing the program to the Vineyard. She said that finding the right partners for the DigiCon program is to key to its success. “We have been impressed by the Vineyard Y’s mission of reaching out to teens,” she said. “It is a unique program.”

Alex’s Place, a dedicated safe area for teens. is a two-level, 5,000-square-foot addition to the YMCA that houses a computer lab, a gaming area, a kitchen, and living room on the first floor. The basement level has a state of the art black box style performance and dance space called Studio 57, and a digital audio-visual studio for teens.

The graduates are: Evan Kristal, Karn Datta, Joseph Oliver, Tully McDonough, Lorraine, Menezes, Zale Narkiewicz, Jared Livingston, Ian Shea, Patrick McDonough, and Goncalo Rego.