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Mary Pitkin is a giver, receiver, volunteer, and digital activist

Volunteering, often overlooked and ignored, benefits both the giver and receiver–and Mary Pitkin is a perfect example of why it’s such a great thing to do.

Volunteering opens people to new experiences and gets them out of their comfort zone. Volunteering in the United States has continued to decline since 2005, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 28.8 percent volunteer rate from 2003-2005 decreased to 25.3 percent in 2014. “Unfortunately, the share of Americans who volunteer has stagnated and started to dip. As scholars who have looked into this trend, we believe it’s important to reverse that decline before it takes a toll on public-serving operations like firefighting and child protective services that rely on volunteers to expand what paid staff can accomplish on their own,” wrote professors Rebecca Nesbit of University of Georgia and Robert Christensen of Brigham Young University in a March 2018 piece on the issue.

Mary Pitkin takes volunteering into the digital world by sharing her online skills with others.

“When you have special skills then you almost have an obligation to share them,” she said in a recent interview.

Mary started volunteering when her children were in school, joining the PTA and becoming the president. “I feel that you always should give back something if an entity is giving you. If the kids go to school then you join the PTA.” Volunteering is a great way to network and meet like-minded individuals, the non-profit global construction organization buildabroad.org recently reported: “Through the work and dedication of others, you might be inspired to start your own grassroots project to assist others or alter the career path you had originally set forth for yourself.”

So what does Mary Pitkin do? Mary teaches others, from kids to elders, internet and computer skills. She also assists in laptop distribution in Charlotte schools. “In this day and age if you don’t have access to the internet and you don’t know how to do it you’re going to miss out on a lot of opportunities and connections,” she said. By volunteering to teach those who want to strengthen digital skills, she’s making a difference in the community.

Pitkin supports multiple age groups, and said there are sometimes more similarities than one would think. In their excitement to learn new material, she compared senior citizens to children. Teenagers who consider themselves digital natives are occasionally less willing to listen. “The challenging ones are the high school kids because they think they know as much as you,” she said. One pattern Mary has often detected in senior citizens is that someone else has set up everything on their phone for them. This prevents seniors from fully understanding digital functions on their phones. But teaching digital skills makes a significant difference in the lives of seniors, and simplifies communication with their families and with the community.

Mary’s focus in digital inclusion is on the people-and-education side of the equation, more than the hardware or broadband-availability side. National authorities believe this is where the need is.

“As technologies evolve, we know that addressing digital inequities is more than a problem of access but one of greater social and economic inclusion,” National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) wrote in 2017.

Visit Digital Charlotte’s volunteer opportunities page to discover new ways to help people.