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Student group Connect 4 Compassion provides technology to underprivileged children

Mar. 2, 2016

A group of IU students saw a need, so they started an organization to provide equal access to technology for underprivileged children in the Bloomington community.

connect 4 compassion

From left, Connect 4 Compassion members Viharika Peddi, Lauren Wahle, Alivia Skillman and Jeffrey Yu. | PHOTO BY ERIC RUDD, IU COMMUNICATIONS

The student-run Connect 4 Compassion partners with Middle Way House of Bloomington to find junior high-age children who lack access to the Internet or a computer. With money from a Metz Grant, the group is able to provide each child with his or her own Chromebook. In addition, a Connect 4 Compassion mentor is paired with a child for the semester to teach him or her how to use the computer and applications like Google Docs, Google Sheets and more.

“In a tech-based world, if you don’t have that at your disposal, you can get left behind very quickly,” said Lauren Wahle, treasurer of Connect 4 Compassion.

The group launched its first pilot program in spring 2015, with an emphasis on online interaction. Members communicated with their mentee mainly through email to emphasize the importance of digital communication. Mentors would email their students each week with assignments to complete, and the students would update them on any milestones accomplished, such as typing a certain amount of words or creating a business outline.

“I noticed right away his excitement and his willingness to take on the program,” former mentor and current executive board member Alivia Skillman said about her mentee. “His drive really developed throughout the course of the program.”

Based on feedback from its pilot program, the group restructured the program to put a larger emphasis on the mentor relationship. Their updated program, launching this month, consists of a semester-long curriculum with weekly in-person meetings to establish a connection beyond teacher and student.

The mentees will still have weekly tasks to complete, with the aid of their mentor, such as doing Google research or completing a spreadsheet. At the end of the semester, the children will present a business plan to the Connect 4 Compassion members, Middle Way House representatives and their parents, using skills they have learned throughout the program to put the presentation together. The business plan was a part of last year's program that saw a great deal of success.

The children's creativity with this project is really impressive, Wahle said. A child in the pilot program designed a clothing line and took photos of his designs using his computer’s webcam. Another student designed headbands based on the book and film series “Divergent.”

“Because the children also had to develop a business plan, it challenged the kids to think creatively,” said Monte Simonton Jr., special programs coordinator at Middle Way House. “It allowed them to take a passion or interests that they had and explore how they could create a business idea to make money off of it.”

One of the unique aspects about Connect 4 Compassion’s program is the ability to give each participating child a Chromebook to keep. This allows the children to continue with their progress, even after completion of the program, said Jeff Yu, Connect 4 Compassion’s vice president of project-based learning. 

“They can type their school work on their own computer, use multiple programs to do assignments, explore questions on the Internet and do so with greater confidence and knowledge because of this program,” Simonton said.

Community outreach is important to the members of Connect 4 Compassion, as they realize through the interaction that they are fortunate to have the opportunities and experiences that are sometimes denied to others. The children they are working with have limited access to computers, and that’s only when they are at school, Simonton said.

“The compassion aspect comes in when you’re helping someone who hasn’t had what you’ve had in life,” Yu said. “With the one-on-one mentorship, you’re going to be a role model for them, while also teaching them something valuable, and that’s special.”

Connect 4 Compassion's work aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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