At Communities In Schools® (CISTM), we help build communities that surround students for life success. Partnerships bring a rich array of community resources into schools, where students can easily access them. Across the state, CIS affiliates work with over 600 organizations and businesses to serve 81,000 students. Whether CIS is connecting students with school supplies, food and housing, or a caring social network, these connections wouldn’t be possible without partners and volunteers.

During COVID-19, students faced barriers to connectivity and finding safe spaces to learn and engage with their online schooling. As the state office shared these challenges with our regional partners, Arista Networks and Datec, Inc., stepped forward to help.

“I come from a family of educators, so I jumped at the chance to be part of this,” says Lance Gomez, Enterprise Account Executive with Arista.

The state office worked with local affiliates to identify a community center that might need an IT upgrade. CIS of Spokane County volunteered Northeast Community Center (NECC) as a potential site. A hub in Spokane’s Northeast community, NECC provides a community library and safe spaces for the public to meet and access online information. It also hosts multiple organizations that provide social services, medical and dental services, child care, and other essential programs. CIS of Spokane County has been partnering with NECC for 4+ years to connect students with resources at the center. The NECC is located close to a middle school served by CIS, and it also provides office space for CIS to manage 21st Century Community Learning Center programs at the center.

“It’s a fantastic partnership,” says Chuck Teegarden, Executive Director at CIS of Spokane County. “Like we do at CIS, NECC takes a two-generation approach to family engagement—they serve both parents and children. The need to elevate the concerns of families has never been greater.”

Before the pandemic, NECC was struggling to provide WiFi coverage for all of its partner organizations and visitors. The pandemic only increased WiFi demand, as the community needed a safe space to receive services, attend online school, and access digital resources. To help solve NECC’s WiFi dilemma, Arista provided modern access points to raise WiFi reception (worth $70,000) and Datec provided engineering and installation services (worth $7,500).

“This gift has greatly improved the ability for Northeast residents to access essential public services, health information, education and financial services,” says Dave Richardson, NECC Executive Director. “This partnership of Northeast Spokane residents, schools, and community organizations generates hope and opportunity through collective action.”

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

– Courtney Cook (Datec, Inc.)

Although Arista and Datec regularly work together for business, this is the first time they’ve done a community project of this scope. Arista has a long history of community giving, made possible by the philanthropy of Jayshree Ullal, Arista CEO and President. At Datec, Justin Howell (Server and Storage Engineer) is excited to give back to his Spokane community, and Courtney Cook (Account Executive) also has personal connections to CIS. Through CIS of Spokane County, Courtney volunteered with aspiring young ladies at Rogers High School.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” Courtney says.

The WiFi reconfiguration at NECC took place over eight months and resulted in full WiFi coverage for the center’s two buildings. Now the center’s guests and partner agencies will be able to access information and resources with strong WiFi and peace of mind.

“Partnerships can look like a lot of different things. Gifts of time, expertise and needed in-kind items can be just as valuable as monetary giving,” says Carina Raddatz, Development Director at the CIS of Washington state office. “And the good news is that there’s a whole network of partners that want to lean in and support kids, however they can.”

Learn more about CIS of Washington, CIS of Spokane County, Arista Networks, and Datec, Inc.