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'Rachael Ray' spotlights Greensboro effort to get laptops to kids who need them

'Rachael Ray' spotlights Greensboro effort to get laptops to kids who need them

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GREENSBORO — Television celebrity Rachael Ray likes to show how one person can help change a community and even the world.

Brittany Williams fits that bill.

The founder of Greensboro's iAlign Dance Company, Williams and her team have collected new and gently used laptops from businesses and individuals, refurbished the computers and distributed them to Guilford County students in need.

So far, they have handed out nearly 500 laptops so that students can learn remotely during the pandemic.

Williams' campaign landed her on the Friday, Jan. 15 episode of "Rachael Ray," the syndicated daily talk and lifestyle television program hosted by the celebrity cook and author. 

“Her good deed has literally transformed into a movement," Ray says of Williams in a segment recorded before Christmas. "Here’s another example of how each one of us can literally change the world.”

Williams calls the effort to supply students with laptops "a beautiful but humbling experience."

During Friday's seven-minute segment, Williams got another surprise. 

Ray announced that North Carolina tech giant Lenovo will donate 100 new laptops to the cause.

Williams said she cried when she heard the news.

"I'm just extremely grateful that we have been able to get so much attention to help build this program, so that every student in Guilford County has an opportunity to succeed," Williams said in a phone interview last week.

Williams' nonprofit dance company brings real-world issues to the stage through the art of dance.

It rents space to teach and perform in the downtown Greensboro Cultural Center. She has 39 students of all ages.

But since the pandemic hit in March, she has been teaching remotely from home.

Many of her dance students come from underserved communities, Williams said.

Education is a key component of iAlign. Its students have worked hard over the years to bring up their grades.

But many did not have laptops or internet service to stay in touch with their teachers and their lessons during remote learning.

"Parents were calling me, asking what I could do to try to help them get laptops or see if there was something we could do," Williams said.

Williams, too, was concerned that students' learning might lose momentum during the pandemic.

She called friends of friends to try to get laptops for her students. Internet providers have offered free service.

Soon, all of her dance students had computers. They could use them not only to stay in touch with their schools, but to take dance classes virtually.

But other Guilford County students needed laptops, too.

Students and their parents applied through the iAlign Dance Company website at www.ialigndance.com.

Guilford County Schools has been addressing the issue as well.

It ordered 79,000 new laptops and iPads this spring and summer.

That’s enough to loan a new device to almost every student, teacher and teacher assistant for remote learning this school year. However, many of the computers are just now coming in or still yet to be delivered.

Meanwhile, iAlign Dance Company's waiting list for laptops has grown to more than 3,000, Williams said.

Williams and her team raised money so that it could pay for refurbishing. A company in Raleigh, where Williams now lives, refurbishes them for a reasonable price, she said.

When they delivered the laptops to students' homes in different neighborhoods, they noticed that "it was a wide variety, a wide array of different students from different walks of life that still needed help," Williams said. 

ABC's "Good Morning America" and "ABC World News Tonight" took notice. In the fall, the "Rachael Ray" show called.

It filmed the segment remotely before Christmas.

“I love everything about this story," Ray said in the segment, "because I talk so often about our schools being the only place where kids that go at risk of being hungry can be well-fed. And, it’s the only place they can go to get access to equal equipment."

"So," Ray added, "when we all moved to home learning ... it became such an inequity for so many families that simply cannot afford to have the technology that others are so fortunate to take for granted.”

Ray's show arranged for the gift from Lenovo.

The company's global operations center is in Morrisville. Its U.S. Fulfillment Center is in Whitsett.

In response to COVID-19, the company has given nearly $13 million to schools, hospitals and community partners around the world — including more than $5 million in North America and $1.5 million in North Carolina, said Libby Richards, community engagement manager for Lenovo North America.

When Williams heard about Lenovo's donation, tears flowed.

"That obviously cuts down on fundraising we need to do for refurbishing," Williams said in the interview. "It allows a student to get a brand-new laptop that would not only work for them this year, but many years to come."

When she receives the laptops, she and her team will notify the next 100 students on the waiting list.

The effort will stop when the laptops stop coming in, she said.

When Williams thinks of the effort, she recalls an elementary school girl who didn't have access to a laptop.

Her mother tried to help her daughter do school work on a cellphone, but it wasn't working. The student's grades had dropped to zeros or "incomplete."

When Williams and her team delivered the laptop, the girl "cried and hugged me and thanked me." She wanted to "show her teachers that she was not dumb. She knew she was smart."

"In just being able to have access like other students, she realized that she could do the same work," Williams said. "She just needed the technology in her hands."

When the girl could complete the work on her new laptop, her zeros and incompletes turned to 100s and A-pluses.

Staff Writer Jessie Pounds contributed to this report.

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at 336-373-5204 and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.

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