WATSONVILLE — Every weekday, scores of young people throughout South County get out of school and come to Digital NEST, where they set out to master the varied technology that increasingly drives their world.
The nonprofit organization began in 2014 in a tiny space above an existing business. It moved next door to Cabrillo College’s Watsonville campus last year.
It now boasts a membership of more than 1,600 young people and 14 staffers at its flagship Watsonville location, and its newest one in Salinas, which opened in April.
Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology,) celebrated its third anniversary Sunday.
Located next door to Cabrillo College and overlooking Watsonville Plaza, the two-story building was brimming with activity Monday, and that was before school let out for the day.
A group of young people was producing videos and other publicity for clients such as Lakeside Organic Gardens, UC Santa Cruz and Pajaro Valley Unified School District, in a project called “bizzNEST.”
A staffer in “The Outlet” was ready to check out computers and other technology, and provide tech support, to members.
The organization offers an enormous range of classes and workshops in topics that range from video and sound production to programming.
Founder and CEO Jacob Martinez said the organization is working to align its curriculum with that of Cabrillo College, the better to quickly prepare students for continuing education.
While technology education is a cornerstone of Digital NEST’s mission, Martinez said he also wants his members to enter the job market with several industry contacts under their belt, along with a host of real-world experience.
“That’s what the vision was about, to give young people the skills so they can compete for jobs,” he said.
Cesar Chavez Middle School student Diego Figueroa, 13, said he volunteers in numerous capacities in the Digital NEST, including giving orientation tours to visitors. He was helping Monday to plan for an upcoming open house.
“It’s definitely improved my social skills and my planning skills,” he said. “A lot of this will be put into our lives later on.”
In offering in-depth technological education, Martinez said he wanted to fill a void left by public schools, and help low-income students who often cannot afford the classes or equipment necessary to learn it.
His goal, he said, was also to create generations of young tech-savvy entrepreneurs who might one day to create local job opportunities, further bolstering the economy and stem the flow of college graduates moving away from Watsonville.
There is no doubt of the NEST’s success, since it has caught the eye of such tech giants as eBay, Facebook and Plantronics.
But Martinez said he has been surprised by the way Digital NEST members are perceived by the community at large. Wearing a Digital NEST T-shirt, he said, frequently earns positive comments from passersby.
It also helps put a positive stamp on South County, he said.
“It gives them identity,” he said. “It gives them power. I didn’t realize the impact this would have on their social capital.”
“I think this is changing how people see youth potential,” he added. “It’s beyond my expectations.”
Digital NEST is located at 318 Union Street, Building B in Watsonville. It is open from 12 until 6 p.m. every weekday. For information email Jacob Martinez at [email protected], call 722-6378 (NEST) or visit www.digitalnest.org.