Softchoice and Lenovo partner up to POWER UP schools in need


Here at Softchoice, we believe technology is a powerful learning tool and a means to a better world.

When applied to classroom learning, the use of technology challenges children to think critically and to solve problems in new and innovative ways. It connects them with the most current information and interactive learning programs available, and it nurtures a more social and collaborative classroom environment.

Many schools across North America, however, are strapped for cash and have had trouble keeping up with basic infrastructure demands. Technology, like laptops and tablets, are considered a ‘nice to have’ by comparison and a much lower priority.

As a result, schools rely heavily on local fundraising, particularly through parents, to fill in funding gaps. This places schools in low-income neighborhoods at a particular disadvantage, as their fundraising tends to yield far less than schools in more affluent areas. These same families are also far less likely to have a computer or Internet access at home.

Through the IT solutions we’ve delivered to our educational clients, Softchoice and Lenovo have seen firsthand the positive impact technology can have on student engagement and achievement. That’s why we were so excited to launch POWER UP: Technology Grants for Schools in Need.

The concept is simple: Award technology grants of up to $10,000 each to deserving schools to support students’ learning and development. Together with Lenovo, we are seeking to bridge the digital divide and empower more kids to succeed through access to technology. We’re also supporting a decade-long mission started by our own employee-led, corporate giving program, Softchoice Cares.

Since 2006, Softchoice Cares has raised more than $1.5 million for local and international charitable organizations to unleash the potential of people and technology. It’s the philanthropic spirit of our people that is central to our award-winning culture and inspires initiatives like the POWER UP program. In fact, the entirety of Softchoice’s share of the POWER UP technology grant funds came from our employees’ volunteer endeavors.

Now we need your help to unleash the potential of students by nominating an elementary or middle school that could benefit from a $10,000 technology grant! In our inaugural year, the POWER UP program is reserved for publically-funded schools serving students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in the following cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Toronto and Montreal. Softchoice will contact all nominated schools that fit the program criteria to encourage them to apply for a POWER UP grant.

Are you an educator in one of these seven cities? You can find full details on eligibility and application deadlines on the POWER UP website, or you can apply now on behalf of your school by filling out either the Canadian or U.S. application forms and submitting them to powerup@softchoice.com.

We’re always searching for exciting opportunities to engage with like-minded people, from our employees to our vendor partners like Lenovo, to make a difference for those in need.

Let’s POWER UP schools in need and students together!

Softchoice Cares and Year Up: Unleashing the potential of young adults

Two years ago, Softchoice’s Seattle office started to work with a non-profit organization, Year Up. [Read more…]

Softchoice Cares & Tokens 4 Change: Enabling urban independence together

Softchoice Cares & Tokens 4 Change: Fighting enabling urban independence together

Six years ago, my friend Scott volunteered at Youth Without Shelter (YWS), an emergency shelter in the Greater Toronto Area. He noticed there was a focus on education and development to enable independence, but realized the cost of transportation stood as a major barrier. Without money, how could residents go to interviews, school, or even appointments to stay healthy? Because of that, he created the fundraiser Tokens 4 Change (T4C). [Read more…]

Creating Against All Odds: an interview with SKETCH Artistic Director, Phyllis Novak

DSC_4808Softchoice Cares recently had the opportunity to sit down for a conversation with Phyllis Novak, the Artistic Director of SKETCH, a Toronto-based organization that engages street-involved youth through the arts. Throughout 2015, numerous Softchoice employees have been raising funds for SKETCH through the company’s Power to the People program.

SOFTCHOICE: “Can you tell us about the history of SKETCH?”

PHYLLIS: “SKETCH is a Toronto-based community arts enterprise for young people, aged 16-29, who live homeless, street involved, or who otherwise find themselves on the margins. We have 7,500 square feet of ridiculous creative studio space in the cultural hub of Artscape Youngplace in Toronto’s west end.

“We have been operating in this city, building our framework for engagement with youth, for almost 20 years. We have our 19th birthday on November 6th of this year, and we’re going to move into our 20th birthday celebrations in the coming year. We have had over 9,000 young people participate in the organization that come from across Canada, and they have built the framework of what SKETCH is all about.”

SOFTCHOICE: “Can you tell us about your background and what drew you to work at SKETCH?”

PHYLLIS: “I worked as an actor in the city for years. In between theatre gigs, I volunteered at a drop-in centre in downtown Toronto, offering theatre workshops. I soon discovered this great need and desire for them to do more artistic stuff than just theatre – to be able to launch individual art and music projects, and all kinds of creative things. I ultimately gave up my acting job.

“I’m still completely inspired by their yearning to create against all odds.”

“Young people who live on the street are tremendously stigmatized and limited by what society thinks of them. Many of them unfortunately internalize and it believe about themselves. But everybody’s got a different story and a different background with trauma and a ton of challenges. There’s a common thread throughout of this raw, unpretentious creativity and this unique view of how we can create a vibrant and inclusive community together.

“So, 20-years later, I’m still completely inspired by their yearning to create against all odds. That’s what I believe SKETCH is all about. It’s this place that’s trying to reframe the conversation and reframe the response to youth homelessness and poverty. We’re not just servicing their basic needs and trying to get them off the street. We’re trying to reframe the conversation and help them to discover their creative perspective, their creative capacity, and allow them to lead us in reshaping our communities.”

DSC_4799

SOFTCHOICE: “How is SKETCH’s partnership with Softchoice helping to meet your goals for growth and development?”

PHYLLIS: “SKETCH is totally reliant on participation and partnership from community members, and we’re amazed at the creativity and the goodwill that different folks express. Softchoice is coming with this great energy and this great desire to give, to partner and to build opportunities for youth at SKETCH, especially technological opportunities. That really matters to us, because we’ve struggled to find a partner who will help us build digital media access for young people.

“Not only is it difficult to convince people to fund arts-related activities for street-involved and homeless youth, but we can’t believe how difficult it is to get funds to advance their access to digital media and to advance their digital literacy. It shocks me as it’s a great avenue to help them find jobs and participate in all kinds of things. But for some reason it’s seen as a frill.

“We have this great lab downstairs that we want to create as our digital media lab, and we are pretty excited about it! We want to work with Softchoice to build this space, whether we use the funds to simply set up that space or use your expertise to figure out what kind of inventory is needed and have you help us in the technical setup and design.”

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

“Break the Silence.” “Stop Violence Towards Women.” “Rape is Wrong.” Just a few of the slogans the Softchoice Cares team were asked to paint across the walls of Poprada Village homes.

Theese are messages that Jatan is working to bring to all of the villages in the Rajasthan District as part of its larger initiative to ensure change in the status of women in their society. And as we walked through the door to the women’s Gender Panchayat Resource Center meeting, we hear Jatan’s Yashodhara Bai and Manju Dwi passionately speak with the women in their local dialect.  Her message is clear:  there’s an election coming up and it’s imperative that every woman votes to ensure she has her say in what goes on in her local community.

[Read more…]

India: Finding Harmony Within the Noise

India: Finding Harmony Within the Noise

The end of the first work week got off to a rough start for me. The spicy and exotic Indian food that was so great the first few days was now losing its charm. The constant honking and swerving to get to the work site did not make for a pleasant morning. Even the worksite business of schlepping stones, mixing and pouring concrete, which at first, a refreshing break from the daily grind of life in NYC, was now just painful.

But after we took a break at the Jatan office and got some good news about the internet upgrade needed for the project, we loaded up the cars to head to the worksite and my outlook started to change. Our driver, who had come off as shy the first few days, put in a CD of some amazing Indian dance tracks and cranked up the volume. As we cleared the town, a beautiful song came on with a man singing over what sounded like an acoustic guitar and everything seemed to fall into place. The goats, cows, water buffalo, sheep, camels, pigs and wild dogs that roam freely in the streets all seemed to be right where they belonged and the honking seemed to provide a nice back beat to the soundtrack. We all felt a renewed energy as we headed back to the worksite.

After an afternoon spent knocking out the last of the foundation and the pillars, our hosts took us out to a village near his home where we loaded onto some cow-drawn wagons and journeyed through some fields to an amazing thousand year old, lake-side temple. The beauty and tranquility at the temple seemed so much more intense after experiencing the entire week’s sensory overload. To end the day, the cofounder of Jatan invited the team to his home. We drank some some tea and learned about life in the upper cast and what inspired him to give back and have more meaning in his life.

However, the tranquility of the afternoon quickly wore off again on the crazy drive back to the hotel. As we flew down a “two lane road” that would be best described in North America as a poorly maintained bike path. Out of nowhere, a turn signal came out of the dark. I assumed this to be someone merging into the road, and what I thought would force our vehicle into a ditch. After no panicking from our driver, I quickly realized the signal wasn’t what he was attempting to do but was simply communicating to our driver to go around him. It suddenly became clear to me, the incessant honking I’ve come to know quite well in India isn’t drivers getting angry and telling people to get out of their way, but just letting each other know where they are so they can safely avoid them.

I still don’t think I will really ever understand the chaos in India. However, I certainly went to bed with a new appreciation and perspective on finding the moments of harmony in the daily madness of life here.