May Leadership Partner Spotlight: Google, HandsOn Tech Bring Home the Story of Service

The video features a small boy getting ready on a winter morning, then bundling up against a cold Chicago morning and riding his bike with training wheels down a city sidewalk, his mother by his side. They’re headed to “school” - the Tolton Center’s family literacy program at Casa Juan Diego in Chicago, where Margarita and Jesus perfect their English language skills and study.

But the story behind the video itself tells the tale of how technology and training are helping staff at places like Tolton bring the complex story of service work to a broader audience. The video, the first of its kind for the Tolton Adult and Family Literacy Center, was conceived by two staffers who attended a seminar on video storytelling presented by Let’s Dabble and hosted by HandsOn Tech Chicago, a program developed in a partnership between Points of Light and Google.

Tolton staffer Emily Arvizu said amid the tech training, one simple message shifted her thinking: You don’t have to have the best equipment; you just have to be willing to try. Back in her office, she assessed the tools at hand and picked up her tablet. She shot hours of video, then used the basic video editing software she found on her computer.

Arvizu chose the family literacy program for her video in part because people are unfamiliar with the holistic approach that program uses to work with the whole family. “I think sometimes, when people hear family literacy, they’re not really sure what that entails,” Arvizu said. “So I wanted to say, this is a family at one of the centers.”

When other Tolton Center staff saw what she was doing, they came up with ideas for more videos that could introduce the public to the center’s mission and programs. “That one-and-a-half-day training has opened so many doors to us,” Arvizu said. “It has given us a sense of, we can do this and we don’t need the best equipment or a videographer”- although she admits that would be nice.

HandsOn Tech builds the capacity of the nonprofit sector through technology, with a focus on cloud-based tools that are free or low cost. It now operates in eight cities, where it puts AmeriCorps VISTA members to work helping nonprofits conquer their technology challenges.”

“Google has been a strong partner in this program by providing high-quality training for our AmeriCorps VISTA members, volunteering countless hours working with nonprofits in each of the communities and even providing training space for our events," said Sarajane Foltz, Points of Light’s program manager for HandsOn Tech.

With Google’s partnership, the HandsOn Tech Chicago program has grown swiftly. It trained people representing 217 separate nonprofits in the 2011-12 fiscal year, and it has trained people from 700 nonprofits so far this year, Foltz said. Nationwide, the program trained people from 3,386 nonprofits last year and 3,200 so far this year.

Back in Chicago, the program has opened many doors for Margarita and Jesus, particularly as she began learning and then excelling at English. The most important was the front door of the home Margarita was able to buy after several months at the Tolton Center. See their story on YouTube.