Byte Back– a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that provides computer science training–announced its award of $775,000 from the TD Ready Challenge to scale their operations and expand to Baltimore.
The announcement was made Wednesday after Byte Back was one of 228 American and Canadian applicants who were asked to pitch against 15 other organizations in Toronto, Canada in late August.
Byte Back has provided free classes to underserved residents of Washington, D.C. since 1997. Courses range from beginner to advanced and are six to eight weeks. Beginner classes offer the basics on how to use a computer and send emails, while advanced courses equip students with certifications in information technology and Microsoft Office.
Byte Back does not offer coding classes; however, Byte Back Executive Director Elizabeth Lindsey said students leave the program prepared with skills efficient enough to join coding boot camp.
Lindsey said there are numerous organizations training minority communities on computer science, but Byte Back is unique in that it targets older adults. Most of the students in their program are over the age of 30.
“We as a society have done our communities a disservice by not realizing that there are millions of people who are over 30 who really do need training and support moving into careers,” Lindsey said.
Demika Alston, a graduate of Byte Back, now works with the organization and said she’s been able to accomplish many of her personal goals with the program.
“Byte Back helped me transition from working in restaurants where I was a manager for over 15 years,” Alston said. “I’m way more comfortable with using a computer now.”
Alston said the program has also helped her find new ways to connect with her children.
“I wanted to learn all of this so that I could understand what they’re doing,” Alston said.
“Many people who didn’t go to college or who have not gone to school in 10 to 20 years — they don’t have the level of computer and tech skills to be able to start at coding boot camp,” Lindsey said. “We try to bridge the gap for people who have not truly had the opportunity to be exposed to technology.”
Lindsey said the next few months will be “an exploratory time” for Byte Back as the organization figures out which partners and communities in Baltimore need the most help.
Chicago, Phoenix, and Youngstown, OH are on Byte Back’s shortlist of cities to expand to, although Lindsey said the organization is keeping its options open.
“Ninety-eight percent of our students are Black and Latinx so we’re really focused on being in communities of color,” Lindsey said.
Byte Back plans to use some of its award money for its D.C. operations.