Transforming lives through digital literacy.


During his winter break, Charles Li took a few days off from volunteering at IT Bookman Community Center in order to finish his college applications. It’s an impressive list of schools that he’s applying to — some of the best institutions either coast has to offer (and this author is happy to say that the Midwest got a nod with U of Chicago). After spending a bit of time with this focused, thoughtful high school senior, it does not come as a surprise to me that his choices for college are a tour-de-force.

Charles began volunteering at IT Bookman last August. He is not motivated by needing volunteer hours (his high school does not mandate service time). “I had a friend who told me about it, and so I came. I like helping people, and I like computers.”

While he is not sure yet what he wants to study, maybe something in business, he is likely to end up in a field that engages and interests him, not just something that is easy. His favorite subject is not math, “even though I’m good at it. I kind of like English. I’m hanging in there (gradewise), but it’s really fun, talking about literature. I’m reading Hamlet. Crazy stuff is happening.”

No matter what he ends up studying, the skills he has gained as a CTN volunteer will prove helpful. “I’ve learned better ways to communicate with people who have different backgrounds and ages and understandings. I’ve gained new skills with communicating with people … what you know might not be what they know. You have to be patient and specific. Sometimes when teenagers talk, we just keep on talking, but sometimes you have to slow down and check in with people.”

Charles goes on to discuss the relationships that have cropped up with some of the seniors he tutors. “It’s really fun. I see the same people. Some of them need help. Some of them just hang out. While I teach them about computers, they teach me stuff about life. They talk to me. Sometimes I overhear stuff, and sometimes they tell me things. It’s a reciprocation of knowledge. Like Fred,” Charles refers to one of the regulars at IT Bookman, “he plays the guitar. He tells me how to talk to girls and stuff.” Charles isn’t willing to share any of these pearls of wisdom, though he does worry that he lacks one of Fred’s main points of attraction: the guitar.

“I’m teaching Fred math. He’s into it. He’s into music and all sorts of things on YouTube. It’s really good because he has diverse interests and it’s really good to teach a senior like that.”

Originally from China, Charles moved to San Francisco five years ago. “At first it was hard to get used to,” he admits. Until he arrived in California, he attended an international boarding school in Guangdong, China, so the transition to the U.S. was immense.

As he looks towards his next life change (he will start hearing from colleges in March) CTN is happy he found us. Whatever university Charles ends up at, the school will be lucky to have him. And we hope he will come back to spend some time in the computer labs on his holidays.


To learn more about becoming a volunteer click here

Volunteer Spotlight: Charles Li

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Kathryn Kruse