‘We’re bringing the NEST to more kids’: Digital NEST takes flight in aiming to serve kids in nine communities by 2026

Jacob Martinez, founder and CEO of Digital NEST.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Digital NEST, the acclaimed youth workforce development nonprofit based in Watsonville, is focused on rapid expansion, to nine cities within four years. Stockton is next — after Watsonville, Salinas and Gilroy — and the organization is now figuring out where else to set up shop.

Seven years ago, against numerous odds, Jacob Martinez began putting his ambitious idea to the test: prepare today’s students, especially those with limited access to technology, with the tools they’ll need to succeed.

On Wednesday, Martinez, founder and CEO of Watsonville-based nonprofit Digital NEST, announced plans to open a location in Stockton, the organization’s fourth location beyond Watsonville, Salinas and Gilroy. The bigger announcement: Digital NEST plans to add five additional locations by 2026, consistent with its early vision to provide youth with opportunities to develop skills to launch careers in technology.

Martinez said the expansion demonstrates the organization’s impact and also shows how communities want such training available for their youth.

“This has been the vision of NEST since I launched it in 2014,” he told Lookout on Wednesday. “In that original plan, we thought about how we bring this opportunity not just to kids in Watsonville but to kids in other communities where we know there’s an abundance of talent and there’s an abundance of hunger to create prosperous futures for themselves and their families.”

Currently, Digital NEST serves more than 600 students in Watsonville (508), Salinas (106) and Gilroy (14); it aims to have the Stockton program running by spring 2023. By the end of 2026, it intends to open five more Nests. Chief Growth Officer Corinne Kappeler said the nonprofit plans to serve 300 students at each site, with each to have a team of five to 10 staff members.

“We are addressing a challenge that not many people are addressing: bringing opportunity to forgotten communities. There’s a lot of resources in urban communities,” Kappeler said. “We’re serving an underserved population that deserves to be included. And because we’ve been successful with our programs, and the youth that we serve, people have taken notice and supported us and want to see us expand and grow.”

In 2020, the James Irvine Foundation recognized Martinez for his work with Digital NEST as “a leader in the fight against social, educational and economic inequities in the underserved rural communities of Northern California.” The foundation gave each of the seven recipients of the award $250,000 to go toward their organizations.

Longtime donors Lane and Leticia Bess, through their Bess Family Foundation, recently donated $600,000 over three years to help in this expansion. Kappeler said Digital NEST is still estimating the costs of the planned expansion and plans for that expansion funding to be raised from among anonymous donors, private donations, foundation grants, recovery funds from different levels of government and communities in which the new Nests are located.

If you build a solid nest at home, it’s a pretty good jumping-off point for building community nests far and wide. At...

She estimates costs of about $600,000 to operate each site.

The expansion comes with the standard challenges: funding, finding the right physical locations, and staffing. However, Kappeler and Martinez said they’re focused on the additional challenge of selecting the communities for NEST partnerships as well as engaging with youth.

“There’s a lot of communities in need, and it can be a tough decision to see which are good fits for the Digital NEST,” said Martinez. “And we want to build with the community. The community has to want it. We’re selecting communities with the communities.”

Digital NEST’s filtering for new communities works off these criteria:

  • Are located within 2.5 hours of Silicon Valley.
  • Have a population with least 30% Latinx people.
  • Have experienced historical disinvestment or have low-income populations.
  • Have a local community college.

Kappeler said Digital NEST is close to deciding on its fifth location and hopes to announce it by the summer; the nonprofit is in conversations with community leaders in Modesto, Hayward, Concord and Richmond.

Digital NEST leaders reach out to leaders in interested communities, considering fit. To gauge interest, the organization talks to each community’s stakeholder groups, including leaders in education, philanthropy, business, youth/families, community-based organizations and local government.

In that process, Kappeler said Digital NEST is also ramping up its effort to seek input directly from area youth. That’s particularly important as communities continue to recover from the pandemic’s impacts on the economy and mental well-being, she believes.

“It’s really hard to engage youth right now, across the board, [coming out of the pandemic],” said Kappeler. “We really want to be the organization that does it best through role modeling, through inspiration, through storytelling of what’s possible.”

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