Community Impact

Minding The Generational Digital Literacy Gap

Founded in 1999, the Comcast Foundation focuses on connecting and strengthening communities by supporting programs that expand digital literacy, promote community service, and build tomorrow’s leaders.

In 2015, the Foundation donated more than $18 million to more than 1,100 nonprofit organizations nationwide that focus their efforts on the communities Comcast serves. The Gads Hill Center, founded more than a century ago and based in a struggling Chicago neighborhood, is one of those nonprofits.

As chief executive officer of Gads Hill Center, Maricela García works day in and day out to create opportunities for low-income immigrant children and their families to build better lives through education, access to resources, and community engagement. It’s her job to recognize when things are working, and when something else is needed.

"We want the youth we work with to go to college," said Maricela, who came to the United States in the early 1980s as a result of the war in Guatemala. "We were noticing that even if we worked with them to improve their grades, they needed to develop leadership skills to make them more desirable college applicants."

At the same time, Maricela and her staff recognized that parents were becoming heavily reliant on their mobile devices, but lacking in basic technology skills.

"Banking is online. Getting jobs is online," Maricela said. "If the parents don’t move along faster, they’re going to be left behind."

With many schools using online services to provide homework and assessments, the parents were also struggling to keep track of their children’s academic progress. And when it came time to apply for financial aid to send their children to college, they could not navigate the online process themselves, and instead would come to Gads Hill Center for assistance. At job fairs, recruiters were no longer accepting paper résumés, and instead directing the parents to apply on company websites. In many cases, parents were relying on their own children to help them adapt to changing technology.

With a $15,000 grant from the Comcast Foundation, Gads Hill Center is now addressing both sides of the challenge head-on. In 2015, they trained more than a dozen technology-savvy teens to lead their parents through digital literacy workshops. Twice a month, youth offer training in topics such as setting up and checking email, conducting school and college research, and identifying and applying for job opportunities.


"The teachers should be our youth," Maricela said. "If we give them the opportunity to play a leadership role and see what they know has a value, it adds to their self-esteem and social development."

The youth receive a small stipend, and more importantly, develop valuable leadership skills and a tangible advantage they can use to set their college applications apart from their peers. The parents win, too, by obtaining new digital literacy skills which they can use to secure employment. While still in its early phases, the program shows how the community can benefit when nonprofit and corporate partners collaborate to tackle an unmet need.

Indeed, Comcast and Gads Hill Center have teamed up for years to help the families who live in Chicago’s west and southwest neighborhoods. The relationship was spurred in 2007 after Comcast established a national partnership with National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Latino advocacy organization. Gads Hill Center, one of about 260 NCLR affiliates, had a tremendous reputation as a long-standing leader and an historic presence in the city.

 Maricela García (right), chief executive officer of Chicago’s Gads Hill Center, greets volunteers on Comcast Cares Day.
Maricela García (right), chief executive officer of Chicago’s Gads Hill Center, greets volunteers on Comcast Cares Day.

To Debra Marton, a 35-year Comcast employee who currently manages the company’s external affairs in Chicago, it was a no-brainer to begin a relationship with the nonprofit. The formal partnership began in 2008 when volunteers worked to spruce up the outdoor activity area at Gads Hill Center as part of Comcast Cares Day, the company’s annual celebration of its year-round commitment to service.

As new plants took root in the center’s garden, so did the beginnings of a multi-faceted relationship with Comcast NBCUniversal. The core of that relationship focuses on increasing technology access and improving digital literacy skills for the low-income and immigrant populations served by Gads Hill Center, including the latest initiative to tackle the generational digital divide by empowering both youth and their parents. In addition, the partnership has included board leadership from Comcast and Telemundo executives, event sponsorships, and grants from both the Comcast Foundation and NBCUniversal Foundation. In all, the company to date has provided close to $280,000 in cash and in-kind support to Gads Hill Center.

"The team at Gads Hill Center has become part of our extended Comcast family," Debra said. "If they have something going on, we get involved and vice versa. We think of them; they think of us."

"I don’t even need to glance at my caller ID to know Deb is on the other end of the phone," said Maricela. "We can rely on each other. That’s what makes our relationship work."