Addressing the Digital Divide: Crummer Students and the Aeras Foundation

Technology is a necessity, not a luxury. That is the guiding principle behind the Aeras Foundation, a 501(C)3 dedicated to getting devices in the hands of those in need. The Pew Research Center found that 17% of teens say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection. Central Florida is no exception to the Digital Divide; 30% don’t have Wi-Fi.

Since Fall 2020, Aeras Foundation has collected more than 7,900 electronic devices from donors, such as Universal, Darden, Morgan & Morgan, PepsiCo, Massey, and Duke Energy, including laptops, desktops, tablets, and cellular phones. But what effect has this had on graduation rates, workforce development, and GED attainment? What about the impact to the earth? This is where Crummer students come in. Through Crummer’s unique second year integrated capstone experience, student Lauryn Shakes along with her team and their faculty advisor, Dr. Keenan Yoho, are crafting an impact report. This report will show all the foundation’s work to date and the various impacts of their organization, and it aims to get them more funding to expand their reach.

“Embarking on this journey with the Aeras Foundation during my time at Crummer has been the most enriching and fulfilling experience. This unique opportunity has allowed me to delve into two industries of professional interest—the nonprofit sector and consulting—while connecting with the Aeras Foundation and its incredible team has been a true highlight. Aeras Foundation has had a profound impact on the community, and this project holds the potential to extend this reach,” Lauryn said.

Aeras Foundation started during the pandemic when Aeras Technologies in Maitland was getting a significant number of calls from United Way asking for donations of old technology for the thousands of students without. The team at Aeras saw a great need and knew they needed to do something to help. They soon got connected with other organizations such as Second Harvest, Covenant House, Coalition for the Homeless, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Zebra Coalition. They now have worked with over 250 different nonprofits. Michelle Leeper, a founding member, likes to describe their group as “the Goodwill of technology” and “the nonprofit for all nonprofits.”

“Aeras has a compelling business with a highly motivated and influential leadership with a great network into the tech community,” said Dr. Yoho. “Their level of organization, sophistication, and velocity is very different than most nonprofits.”

The foundation first started their relationship with Crummer with the help of Min Sun Kim ’18MBA, executive director at Crummer’s Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. They became part of strategic thinking and design class, confirming a lot of systems they already did and focusing on their expansion. “Crummer has been one of our best advocates,” Michelle said. “Everyone we’ve been touched by has been absolutely amazing, magical like pixie dust.”

Aeras has been recognized several times for their contributions to the Central Florida community. They were the United Way Changemaker of the Year for Equity, the Best of Winter Park Nonprofit, and in the top three for Orlando Weekly’s Best Nonprofits. “If I could go back, I would have started the foundation faster,” Leeper said. She also points to a bright future. Aeras Foundation just received a grant from Orange County, and they will be hiring. The goal is to work with more nonprofits that offer critical life services.

“For me, this isn’t just an assignment or a class,” Lauryn said, “It’s the most impactful contribution of my Crummer experience, and I’m honored to be part of this project and witnessing the positive change it brings to the community.”

If you are an organization with a potential consulting project and would like more information, contact Mike Kazazis at mkazazis@rollins.edu or 407-646-2039.