First Tech Fund
Stories of Impact
New York’s digital divide was one of the many harsh realities that became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of school children across New York City — a disproportionate amount of whom come from Black, Latinx, immigrant, and lower income backgrounds — were left without computers or Internet access. These students were so committed to learning, however, that some used cell phones for remote schooling, though many still fell behind.
In response, Josue de Paz launched First Tech Fund, a fellowship that equalizes the academic and professional playing field for low-income high school students in New York City.
De Paz saw his immigrant experience mirrored in those of the kids in his program. “My mother brought me to the United States for educational opportunities,” de Paz said. “And she was determined to see that I could attend better schools and get the best education possible — ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty that is the norm for so many children in Mexico.”
In addition to providing students with free laptops and broadband access, First Tech Fund also prepares young people for lifelong success through mentorship opportunities from industry-specific professionals, college prep, and connections with people who can help youth think critically about their career paths.
Brooklyn Org’s gives us a really good foundation so we can scale up our efforts. We’ve received over 1,200 applications for about 250 spots over the last three years, so obviously the demand within New York City is very high.Josue de Paz, CEO & Founder
And the results speak for themselves: First Tech Fund works with almost 250 students, who they refer to as fellows, all of whom say that they have the tools to participate in school and remote learning because of First Tech Fund’s help. Beyond the classroom, almost all of the First Tech Fund’s fellows share that having access to the organization’s programming and technology made it easier for them to apply for extracurricular activities and summer programs. First Tech Fund’s support has not only improved the lives of its fellows, but their families, too: Many shared that having access to WiFi access has helped their family members access educational, social, and health-related services.
This work is vitally important, but doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work and fundraising efforts. Accessing grants is a challenge for even well-established nonprofits, nevermind startups like First Tech Fund that are doing important work at the community level. Fortunately, people are taking notice. In 2022, de Paz was named to the fifth cohort of the Obama Foundation Scholars.
1,200 applications received over the past three years for First Tech Fund's 250 spots
Brooklyn Org has also supported The First Fund’s efforts to make education more equitable for Brooklyn’s young learners. “We are deeply thankful to BKO for its support and belief in our mission,” de Paz shared “[Their support] gives us a really good foundation so we can scale up our efforts. We’ve received over 1,200 applications for about 250 spots over the last three years, so obviously the demand within New York City is very high.”
In 2020, as schools were beginning to rely more heavily on virtual learning solutions, an estimated 500,000 families across New York City had no Internet access. Today, most of these challenges will likely have a solution rooted in technology; and First Tech Fund is here to close the digital divide for children across the city so that they can be leaders in creating solutions.