Into Their Hands, a new Pittsburgh nonprofit, is tackling technological inequity in the age of COVID-19 — and founder Ilana Solomon, a Jewish professional who moved to Pittsburgh after graduating from Columbia University in 2019, is ready to address some big issues through her group’s attempt to get working laptops to students who need them.
“For virtual learning, it’s so essential to have a computer — and there’s a gap,” said Solomon, 23, who works for a technology consultancy and lives in Shadyside. “Our mission is to bridge the digital divide by redistributing laptops to students in need. This is especially crucial now in our pandemic-induced virtual world.”
An estimated one in four low-income students do not have access to a computer or internet connection, Solomon said. Nearly half of all students in the lowest income brackets — those with family incomes below $30,000 — depend on a cell phone to do their homework.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem. An estimated 11 million American children will have difficulty this year completing an online assignment, Solomon said.
Sparked by COVID-19, Solomon and Into Their Hands started reaching out to companies and larger corporations nationwide to recycle their used laptops. The group has started small, putting together a donation of 16 laptops to the Boys & Girls Club of America from a business headquartered in Chicago. Next up, Solomon hopes, are Pittsburgh businesses and Pittsburgh-area groups for children and teens.
“Our goal for the organization is much bigger than this,” Solomon said. “But this is a good start.”
Launched just this summer, Into Their Hands is still processing its nonprofit tax status paperwork. But its age does not reflect the depths of the passions of its co-founders, four young professionals who attended elementary school alongside Solomon. They say they are dedicated to putting in the sweat equity to make Into Their Hands work. Each is involved in vetting the equipment they receive for donations.
“Most laptops, they have a lot of life in them,” Solomon told the Chronicle, “even after companies get [their employees] a new one.”
Comments from the kids who have used the donated laptops in Illinois speak volumes.
“I can depend on the computer and technology at the Club to join my virtual classroom and complete my e-learning homework,” one said.
Solomon feels the act of taking donated business laptops and giving them to those most in need is a form of tzedakah. Though she says she identifies as largely secular, Solomon was involved with Hillel programming at Columbia and has volunteered through the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“This is a very Jewish activity and thing — it’s about respect, responsibility, caring, kindness, sustainability,” she said. “All of these things are very Jewish. For me, working with Into Their Hands feels like a Jewish act.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.