STOCKTON, Calif. — A new program coming to Stockton soon will give youth access to computer hardware, software and training for careers in technology fields.
Digital NEST, a nonprofit founded in Watsonville in 2014, has announced that they will be expanding their program for the first time outside of the Central Coast by opening a center in Stockton.
"We're really enthusiastic about Stockton," said Jacob Martinez, CEO and founder of Digital NEST. "This is the first time we're venturing out of this region."
Martinez' excitement has been years in the making. Planning to expand the program beyond its locations in Watsonville, Salinas and Gilroy has always been a goal of Martinez and his team.
"We have aspirations to open up a total of nine throughout the Bay Area and really surround Silicon Valley and put pressure on the valley to make investments in these communities that they are impacting," Martinez said. "They say they all want diversity, they say they all want local. Well, these communities have it. They're just not looking."
With the goal of placing local youth in technology-related jobs, the center acts as a free technology hub and resource center for those ages 14 to 24.
Teens and young adults can become members of the program for free, then schedule times or walk in to the center to access its free resources.
"If you just need a place to study and sit down and work, you got that. You need a computer, or you could check one out? You could check them out for up two weeks," Martinez said. "You need an Adobe Creative Cloud license? We got you on that, and then we'll start engaging you on taking courses because we want to get you on a pathway to a career."
According to data provided by Digital NEST, more than 100 young adults have landed jobs, internships or school placements due to free courses and resources offered at their sites.
The average starting annual income for a Digital NEST alumni is $45,760, according to the program's data.
"The approach has been, how do we invest in young people the way Silicon Valley invest in their employees," Martinez said. "That means the best learning, the best environments to work. That means the best technology at your fingertips. That means the best mentorship. That means the best everything. And so we've taken that approach."
That approach of bringing Silicon Valley offices to youth has been embedded in even the small details about Digital NEST centers, Martinez says.
"We have top of the line furniture. You know, we get everything wired up so it's good internet," Martinez said. "Our job is really just to help connect the dots for (youth), and help guide them. But really, they have all the brilliance already; it's just us giving them the tools for it to be unleashed."
Designing and acquiring the tools needed to empower those skills is a costly and time-consuming process, which is why Martinez says at this point, they are looking to open their Stockton site in early 2023.
"Right now, we're kind of in the early stages of finding where the best place to put a Digital NEST in Stockton would be," Martinez said. "We build all the technology, so it takes some time to build up the centers, especially depending on the condition of the building."
While still months away from opening their doors and turning on monitors and screens, Martinez is hopeful that his expansion will positively benefit the youth in Stockton while diversifying the technology industry.
"The young people have been the most inspirational thing about this whole journey, and they know that their peers are smart," Martinez said. "They know that their peers have talent and ambition and drive, but they just don't have those opportunities in our community."
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