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March 27, 2020

Digital NEST founder wins prestigious statewide award

Organization receives $250K grant from the James Irvine Foundation

WATSONVILLE—Digital NEST Founder and Executive Director Jacob Martinez on Wednesday was named a 2020 recipient of the prestigious James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award. 

Since 1937, the James Irvine Foundation has provided more than $1.87 billion in grants to nonprofit organizations in California. James Irvine, a pioneer of California agriculture, established the foundation to promote the well-being of the state’s residents. 

For more than a decade the foundation’s Leadership Award has gone to leaders of organizations which exemplify Irvine’s philosophy, and also address critical challenges facing Californians today, such as parole process reform, environmental justice, youth development, career readiness, financial services for young people and civic engagement.

“This is huge for us,” Martinez said. “It brings our story to a statewide, even national level. It really shines a light on us and what we’re trying to do here.”

Martinez founded Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology) in 2014. The organization aims to prepare youth in rural, primarily Latino communities for the professional world through technical training. It offers workshops in topics ranging from graphic design to business administration and works alongside local and regional companies to give participants hands-on experience.

Every year the independent selection committee from the foundation reviews nominations based on several criteria, including the significance, effectiveness and innovation of the leader’s work. Martinez was selected along with six others from five different organizations across California. The award provides each organization with a $250,000 grant.

Martinez said that the money will be instrumental to the future of Digital NEST, which opened a second center in Salinas in 2017. They hope to expand even further, building a network of centers across California.

“There are youth all across the state that benefit from our work,” Martinez said. “We want to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, but also move forward. There’s still a lot more youth out there that need us.”

Winners were notified of the award in mid-January but only officially announced it to the public this week. On Thursday, Martinez joined other recipients in Sacramento at a special reception. Foundation representatives, California policymakers, Leadership Award recipient alumni and elected officials were also in attendance.

“We are so inspired by these seven exemplary leaders because of their commitment to, and the impact they have had, improving the lives of Californians,” said Don Howard, president and chief executive officer of The James Irvine Foundation. “It is a great privilege to recognize and celebrate these leaders and to call attention to their innovative solutions that are creating change across the state.”

Added Gov. Gavin Newsom: “I applaud this year’s Leadership Award recipients for their groundbreaking work in their communities and for the next generation of Californians.”

For Martinez, the first five years of Digital NEST was about getting the organization off the ground. The next five years, he said, will be about making an even greater impact. 

“We will continue to prepare students… and to put pressure on companies big and small to hire locally,” Martinez said. “There are some amazing, talented young people in these rural communities who deserve a chance.”

But even with the continued expansion of Digital NEST, Martinez says it will always be a truly Watsonville creation.

“Since the beginning, the people of this city have continued to support us,” he said. “Many of our staff members were born and raised here. Watsonville shaped who we are. No matter how big we get, the heart of Digital NEST is in this community.”

To learn more about the James Irvine Foundation visit irvine.org.

Johanna Miller
Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study English and Media. She covers the arts, business and agriculture.