WATSONVILLE—Jenna Rodriguez has only worked for Digital NEST for about a month, but she says it feels like she’s been a part of the organization for much longer.
“I actually went to [Digital NEST’s] first birthday event,” she said. “It was small and intimate, and it was my first exposure to the work they were doing.”
Two years later, Rodriguez attended another of Digital NEST’s birthday parties—and was amazed at how it had retained its “family culture” despite its fast growth.
“They had expanded, so it was a much bigger thing,” she said, “but I still felt so welcomed. That intimacy was still there.”
Now Rodriguez works as Digital NEST’s Development Coordinator, helping with fundraising, grant writing and events. One such event is the organization’s fifth birthday party, scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m.
Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology) aims to train youth in technology to prepare them for the professional world. It offers workshops in everything from graphic and web design to software development and business administration. Also, the organization works alongside companies to give youth hands-on experience.
Sunday’s family-friendly event will showcase the work being done at Digital NEST and allow guests to meet members and staff. A photo booth, food (including cake), special giveaways, award presentations and special guest speakers are also planned.
Among the speakers will be Digital NEST Founder and Executive Director Jacob Martinez.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Martinez said. “I’ll definitely get emotional on Sunday night. We’ve come so far.”
Martinez said that the fast growth of Digital NEST is due to strong community support.
“When we first had this idea, it was very small,” he said. “The next thing you know, the community was rallying around us, excited about what we were trying to do.”
The organization has continually expanded in its five years, opening a second center in Salinas in 2017 and forging relationships with Silicon Valley companies such as Google and Facebook. In October it held the second annual NEST Flight forum at the Henry J. Mello Center, where hundreds of local students participated in workshops, panel discussions and networking with company representatives.
“When big companies look for talent… they look at places like Stanford,” Martinez said. “Even here in Watsonville, we still have companies who are hiring outside of the area. I see so many brilliant young people who aren’t being looked at as real talent. That needs to change.”
Looking ahead, Martinez said the organization hopes to open up more locations in communities similar to Watsonville and Salinas to create a network of centers.
But that depends a lot on outside support from employers, he said.
“The perception of Digital NEST needs to shift,” he said. “People see us as a charity, but we’re more than that. We don’t just need a check from you—we need you to hire our kids.”
Sunday’s fifth birthday celebration will be held at the organization’s Watsonville headquarters, 318 Union St. from 4-6 p.m.