KD sat in the dark. She lived out of her car, conserving her phone and laptop batteries for as long as she could until they eventually ran out. Then she would just wait – she had nowhere to charge her devices, and so she had no way of getting information from the outside world.
“If you live in a house and your phone or laptop isn’t working, you still have radio and television,” said KD, 57, a web design student. “But I didn’t have that – those two devices were my only mode of communication.”
KD, who had been attending De Anza for nearly two terms at that time, was unable to even make it to campus to charge his devices due to the 2020 shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the personal stress she faced, KD was barely able to finish her homework in time for the end of term.
“I couldn’t do my homework, do my projects or study for my exams because I had to save electricity,” KD said. “I thought, ‘If this pandemic continues, there’s no way I can continue to take classes. “”
She contacted the acting president of De Anza for help and got no response. Instead, his email was forwarded to the head of the IT department, who still couldn’t resolve the issue.
“In all my emails to staff I asked if they could just allow me to park in one of the covered parking spaces and give me access to an electrical outlet there,” KD said. “I wanted to charge my devices and needed Wi-Fi to do my homework, but they wouldn’t let me.”
The only moment of relief came in the form of a school-wide policy that exempted students with all A’s from having to take their course finals.
“Fortunately for me, I got A’s on all my midterms and all my assignments, so I didn’t have to do the finals,” KD said. “Otherwise it would have been a huge problem.”
Although KD finished the winter term with good grades, she opted out of taking classes in the spring term because she wouldn’t have enough battery power to support virtual learning. The situation got so bad that she considered giving up on De Anza altogether.
“At the very beginning, I thought the pandemic would last two or three weeks, but then it just went on and on,” KD said. “It was pretty indefinite.”
KD didn’t give up — she contacted the county supervisor at the Cupertino office, who gave her contact information for three community centers. She called the three centers for help and said she was having trouble getting them to take action.
“Some staff I encountered at community centers were downright rude,” KD said. “They were unwilling to help me, and I would say they have no empathy for their customers.”
The Mountain View Community Center eventually referred her to Hope’s Corner, a non-profit organization that serves the homeless by providing free meals. Citing her previous negative experiences asking for help, KD said she didn’t expect much from the call, but she gave it a try anyway.
The first person KD spoke to was Leslie Carmichael, the president of Hope’s Corner at the time. KD was surprised when Carmichael started asking him specific questions, such as the strain on his laptop.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a really different kind of conversation,'” KD said. “It’s like seeing the light when you walk through an endless dark tunnel.”
Carmichael listened to KD’s problem, and over the next two weeks she tapped into the resources available at Hope’s Corner to find a solution.
“I contacted one of our board members, an attorney,” Carmichael said. “One of his clients was a company called Jackery, and they donated phone and laptop batteries to us that we could loan out and charge for Kim.”
Carmichael told KD she could come on any of the two days Hope’s Corner was open. KD used the service and called it a “relief.”
“I realized I just ran into someone who is willing to help and cares enough to know if there is a solution,” KD said. “It just blew my mind.”
Still, KD couldn’t return to De Anza because she couldn’t charge her laptop and phone often enough to maintain a five-day-a-week class schedule. Nonetheless, she credited Hope’s Corner for helping her through a “catastrophic” situation.
“It was like a life jacket that they threw overboard for me,” KD said. “It kept me alive.”
Since De Anza reopened its campus to students, KD has been able to charge its devices more frequently and start earning its web design certificate again. She still uses the portable charger Hope’s Corner gave her, and she says she feels “lucky” to have been in contact with them.
“There’s a group of people at Hope’s Corner who really exemplify what community service is,” KD said. “I must point out that the staff there were very respectful, unlike the attitude of other organizations where they looked down on me.”
KD’s situation has also inspired a new program at Hope’s Corner that provides homeless residents with the means to charge their devices. Carmichael said a total of 691 people have benefited from the program so far, both through Hope’s Corner and other local organizations that have received donations from Jackery.
“Community service is about trying to understand needs and then working with people to find a way to meet those needs,” Carmichael said. “It was just an example of Hope’s Corner being able to pivot and fill a need, and I’m grateful we were able to pull that off.”
KD said she welcomes the new program.
“I wasn’t the only one in this situation,” KD said. “There are more people like me who could be helped by the program, and it all started with a willingness to help and listen.”