Scenes from outside DigitalNEST’s location in Downtown Salinas on Friday, August 20, 2021 |
| PHOTO ESSAY
Story and photos by Carlos Rene Castro
What once was a busy Salinas city firehouse has now been transformed into a creative oasis for local youth, offering everything from free WiFi to classes in how to build bots and software.
Founded in 2014 in Watsonville, DigitalNEST’s mission is to provide training for young people in rural communities in the necessary technical skills and experience for future jobs in technology. Now, the Watsonville-based nonprofit has opened a permanent location in downtown Salinas.
“Back in 2016, the city of Salinas reached out to me and said we are seeing a lot of more agricultural technology startups coming to Salinas, but there is no workforce there to support those startups,” said Jacob Martinez, CEO and founder of DigitalNEST. The skills that are taught in DigitalNEST classes and projects provide a foundation for young people to get those agtech jobs.
Before the opening of the Salinas location, DigitalNEST had a temporary home at the Cesar Chavez Library in East Salinas as a soft introduction to the community, but the search for a permanent location was a challenge.
“We were looking in the Alisal area, struggling to find anything to meet our needs. Things were either too small or they needed a lot of work,” said Martinez.
“We ended up finding a location in downtown and I wrote (Taylor Farms CEO) Bruce Taylor … he was up the street,” said Martinez. “Hey Bruce, I think I found a place downtown that may be close to your headquarters.”
Taylor responded, inviting Martinez to take a walk with him to another location — the old firehouse on Salinas Street, which had been remodeled to fit a previous business of Taylor’s, according to Martinez.
Now, the firehouse is buzzing with activity as young people come in to take tech classes, use computer equipment and WiFi, or just to hang out in a safe space. Currently, 350 students are taking advantage of the services being offered at the Nest.
The Salinas location is currently open from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The “SaliNEST” is dedicated to offering a space to youth ages 17-24 where they can learn about digital arts, software development, and opportunities to learn about different career paths in technology. Additionally, members at DigitalNEST have access to free Wifi, laptops, mentorship, and snacks.
One SaliNEST member is Foram Shaw, 18, a recent high school graduate who is attending Hartnell College this fall as a computer science major. She has been coming to the NEST for a few months but says she has already learned useful skills in that short time.
“I am currently taking a class here called Tech Squad which allows me to learn more about the technical side of how to build a bot … and use that to help the community,” said Shaw.
The spacious two-story building is a safe, welcoming space for members of the community to host events, teach classes or workshops, and be able to collaborate on projects.
Another happy camper at SaliNEST is Diego Robles, 17, who has been a member at DigtalNEST for about two years.
“The staff here are welcoming and super fun to be around,” said Robles.
Senior site manager Yesenia Molina said she is also excited about the many possibilities that the new Salinas location opens up for young people.
“I want it to be a true community center where members of the community can also come to the space and use the beautiful space that we have,” Molina said. “If a group wants to have a rehearsal here from 6 to p.m., I would love them to do that. If they want to have a gallery exhibit on the weekends, I want to work with them to do that.”
It’s just another step in the DigitalNEST’s expansion plans, as the organization gears up to launch other sites and to serve even more young people in California. More information is available at digitalnest.org.
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter.