Community service is central to Laura Peters’ life—both professionally and personally. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has remained as engaged as ever—running her Southern California-based business (International Software Systems), hosting online events, and volunteering in many ways.
Laura is highly active in the tech community—she’s on VFI’s Advisory Task Force and is the recent past president of the Virtual Chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP). But her community service reaches well beyond tech. For more than 25 years, Laura has been active in Zonta International, a service organization committed to making the world a better place by empowering women.
Making Connections and Teaching Yoga
Recently, Laura brought together her tech connections and volunteer work to help keep a community intact during the pandemic. “Before the pandemic,” Laura explained, “through Zonta, I’d met leaders of Hands Together and their program Morning Garden. This great community organization supports frontline working families with children in the Santa Ana area.”
Ellen Mogasemi, vice president of operations at Hands Together, shared more about the program. “Morning Garden is a safe community space where parents and children can develop skills and support one another. The program includes English learning, job skills, nutrition, and more.”
And how did Laura help? “She started teaching yoga classes at Morning Garden last school year to a group of ten to fifteen women each week,” explained Lorena Aboytes, program director of Morning Garden. It turns out Laura is also a certified yoga instructor! “Laura is amazing with our group, and conscious of physical and emotional needs. And she is very good at speaking Spanish, too.”
Supporting Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic
But then the pandemic hit, and it was no longer possible to meet—or hold yoga classes—in person. The women and children participating in Morning Garden couldn’t gather to learn and support each other. While millions of people have been able to maintain social connections through technology, countless others lack devices and internet access. This technology gap worsens social, educational, and health gaps, too.
Laura knew that Voices for Innovation had launched a Device Donation Drive in the early days of the pandemic. Over several months, with lots of legwork by VFI director David Pryor and help from a Seattle-based non-profit, InterConnection, VFI had arranged for the donation and refurbishing of more than 200 devices—with more coming in. (If you have devices to donate, please email David Pryor.)
InterConnection raises funds and collects donated devices, which are refurbished and distributed to those in need. David put Laura in touch with InterConnection president Cheryl Roe. “Laura’s timing was serendipitous,” Cheryl said. “I had recently run a grassroots fundraiser, and we had unrestricted funds and devices ready. Our reach goes well beyond Seattle, and Hands Together is just the type of organization that InterConnection supports.”
With the assistance of Abraham Diekhans-Mears, InterConnection’s grant program manager and ecommerce associate, eight laptops were prepared and shipped to Hands Together. A short time later, with further technical help, the Morning Garden families were online and gathering as a group again.
“The donated devices enabled our program to continue,” said Lorena Aboytes. “Preschoolers can come together and sing and color. English-learning is back on track for their moms. There has been so much stress, and with the devices, we can now hold a coffee hour support group. We didn’t have the budget to acquire new technology, so the donated devices enabled Morning Garden to continue.”
A Role for Tech Professionals
It is hard to match the energy and passion of Laura Peters for helping out, but every tech professional can support community non-profits in one way or another.
Cheryl Roe of InterConnection noted that, “One donated device can make a difference.” While InterConnection welcomes large donations from big companies, “Small companies can still make an impact.” InterConnection also welcomes financial contributions to support their mission of providing access to affordable technology, connectivity, and digital literacy.
How else can tech professionals help community organizations like Hands Together? “People feel left behind by technology,” said Lorena Aboytes. “There is a need for tech volunteers to teach digital skills.”