Meet TASK’s New Digital Empowerment Leader: Carolyn Burke

Learning a new skill is a great way to boost confidence, a mindset that’s key to success in the working world as well as school.

Carolyn Burke, TASK’s newly hired Computer Resource Specialist, never forgets this as she works to shrink the digital divide for patrons who are seeking new employment or educational opportunities.

“I like to walk my students through everything, so they feel like they’ve accomplished something,” says Burke. “That’s when they get excited, and they want to see what else they can learn. It really boosts their self-esteem.”

Most of the patrons enrolled in TASK’s Adult Education and Work Preparedness (AEWP) program lack basic computer skills and/or access to technology (laptops, smart phones), not to mention knowledge of constantly changing software, including Google Classroom and Google Workspace, which all students and many employees are required to know these days.

“The resources we offer are amazing,” says Burke, “but the pandemic has been a challenge because our students aren’t coming in on a regular basis. It’s almost all remote work.”

Since she was hired in January, Burke has been busy updating user guides, developing foundational training courses, and meeting with patrons individually to help them achieve their education and employment goals (socially distanced, and wearing masks, of course). 

As a tech expert who also has case management skills, Burke understands the importance of buy-in. “You can’t give people what it is you want to give them. First, you must know what it is they need and second what they want.  If people don’t have an emotional attachment, or they don’t feel like they are gaining anything from their instruction, their motivation just fizzles away.”

Burke credits her stint at Legacy Treatment Services, and a brief, very tough time in her life when she experienced homelessness, with helping her know how to inspire her students. 

“At Legacy, I worked in the IOC (Involuntary Outpatient Commitment) program,” recalls Burke. “I met people who were going through such a hard time and in the beginning, they were reluctant to work with us because it was court-ordered.  I encouraged them to believe in themselves, to understand that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  You just have to stay centered within yourself, know what your goals are, and stay focused on what you’re trying to accomplish.  My clients and I collaborated as partners to find out what coping skills worked for them, in doing so, I was able to learn and heal things for myself, which helped me to be positive and stay present.”

Mia Hart, manager of TASK’s AEWP program, says Burke’s diverse work and life experiences have helped her excel in her new position.  Burke has run her own graphic arts and website design business and is skilled in animation and fine arts, particularly drawing, a talent she honed after immigrating to the United States from Jamaica at the age of 9.

But that’s not all: Burke was also an athlete on the John F. Kennedy High School track team in the Willingboro, NJ.  Her coach was William Lewis, the father of Olympic legend Carl Lewis.  Burke won multiple medals as a sprinter throughout school high school, qualifying with her teammates and participating in the Burlington County Relays, going to the Meadowlands and the Penn Relays.  Burke says she learned a great deal about discipline and what it takes to be a winner from her coach.

Carolyn’s skillset has truly been an asset to AEWP,” says Hart. “In addition to patience and empathy, Carolyn’s understanding of the digital divide and how instruction needs to be delivered to the population we serve is refreshing. She is tuned into the barriers (including intimidation) they face and is capable of breaking through and increasing their comfort and willingness to learn.”

Hart says Burke is truly gifted at making tech accessible to everyone. “Carolyn’s instructional guides are extremely comprehensive and user friendly — she incorporates screenshots and easy to read notes and descriptions. They are great reference tools not just for patrons/students but for tutors and staff as well.”

Because of her web design experience, Burke has already been tapped to help update and refresh TASK’s website. One day, she hopes to get involved with TASK’s arts program. “Music and art are a way to connect your soul and rejuvenate your life.  You still have to find time for leisure and to be happy.”