At the height of the pandemic, student access to computers for remote learning quickly became a necessity. This has resulted in a perfect storm of digital inequity, particularly among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations in areas served by Hillside: many families in the Rochester area, for example, are without computer or Internet access; and in Syracuse, nearly a quarter of residents have neither internet access nor a desktop or laptop computer.

Hillside responded to the critical issue of digital equity with an urgent call to the community on behalf of students participating in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection program. These students face hardships during their academic careers that threaten to derail on-time graduation.

In Syracuse, Northwestern Mutual was the first to respond to Hillside’s appeal with a gift of $25,000. Other community partners have followed, including donations of $20,000 each from the Central New York Community Foundation, The Green Family Foundation and Berkshire Bank Foundation. These corporate gifts will build digital capacity for HWSC students at the three-building Solace Campus, with enhancements including complete, free, wireless access points, laptops, and a state-of-the-art computer lab.

“Education lays the groundwork for a strong community,” said Debbie Messina, director of culture & community engagement at Northwestern Mutual. “We believe that all kids deserve access to quality education, and these days, that also means access to necessary technology. We are proud to support Hillside and its HWSC students in this crucial initiative to bridge the digital divide, and we invite other organizations to join us in doing the same.”

In Rochester, the Paychex Charitable Foundation has responded to Hillside’s appeal with a generous gift of $50,000 for the purchase of laptops for Rochester high school seniors participating in the HWSC program. This donation will provide these soon-to-graduate students with essential access to digital resources as they enter college and the workforce.

“As a leading provider of technology solutions to manage HR, payroll, and benefits, Paychex knows just how important digital equity is to support the workforce of today and build the workforce of tomorrow,” said John Gibson, Paychex president and CEO.  “I believe in Hillside’s work and have personally served as a Hillside volunteer to advance their mission. I’m proud that the Paychex Charitable Foundation can assist with this important project.”

“For too long, a systemic lack of access to digital technology tools has held back students and families – particularly in BIPOC communities – from access to critical connections and resources,” said Maria Cristalli, Hillside president and CEO. “Hillside is grateful for these impactful gifts, which will make a profound difference in the lives of the students we serve. We call on the community to add their support for this vital issue.”

Karinda Shanes, regional executive director of HWSC in the Syracuse, Binghamton and Union-Endicott school districts, the support “absolutely life changing.… We look forward to welcoming additional new partners to help bring digital equity to an even greater number of our students. These corporate gifts will open more doors than can be imagined.”

Community generosity is necessary to maintain HWSC and other impactful Hillside programs. Support Hillside’s mission today.

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