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Estella Mims Pyfrom
Purpose Prize Fellow 2015
Former teacher creates a mobile technology lab to connect underserved communities to resources, social services and the internet.
I bring technology to underserved communities. As a migrant, born in Quincy, Florida, I understand the difference between those who have and those who have not. I’ve worked since I was six years old. My father and mother were only able to attain an elementary-school education but they taught me the value of hard work and sacrifice. My father would tell me, if you want to make something happen you have to go and do it, and not wait for someone to do it for you.
I designed, created and built Estella’ s Brilliant Bus, A Class Act Learning Center, which is equipped with 17 computer learning stations and internet connectivity that allows children and their families to connect with the world. Many of the low-income families I see have to choose between technology and the food on their tables, so I travel to underserved communities and provide individual, age- and grade-level appropriate education, free of charge.
I worked for the Palm Beach County School District for 50 years. I saw the need for mobile technology. My vision was to bridge the digital divide for these families, and to empower them through technology, so they would not be left behind.
- Brought technology into the home communities of 73,000 children and adults, leading to higher test scores at school.
- Increased access to food support and meals for 3,000 people a month.
- Featured in a SuperBowl 49 commercial as part of Microsoft’s Empower Us All 2015 campaign, and is among the most-viewed commercials in SuperBowl history.
To date, I have reached more than 73,000 people with technology, education, food and school supplies, and we collaborate with other organizations to bring services to underserved communities. I have not only empowered children but I empowered the parents and the communities as well.
I have been able to hew a stone of hope out of a mountain of despair.
Problems I experienced as a child and later, as an educator, taught me that inclusion and access persist as real challenges for many families. The need for services did not change once I retired from the Palm Beach County school system, but the desire to address the need became more prevalent. So I used my retirement money, and my husband’ s, to build a mobile technology center, to support children of all ages and their families. My approach to solving the problems is to touch as many students’ lives as early as I can, through the Brilliant Bus.
In 2014, my husband and I travelled with 112 educators and students on the first Technology Innovation Tour to Louisiana, where my students won first, second, and third place, along with runners-up and honorable mention, in competitions sponsored by Verizon. This is just one example of what can be accomplished when you dream big and set high expectations for children.
The brilliant bus isn’ t just a bus. It’s a movement. I would like a bus in every city in the U.S., and as many as possible across the world. I aim to continue this movement into the future, so that my nonprofit can continue to serve the invisible in our communities. There is still more for me to do. At age 78, I’ m able to get up every day, work and feel good.