Mohammad Tamal beamed with excitement as he opened a box containing a new computer, and held it high as dozens of other students cheered. 

He was one of 70 students from four school districts across Western New York who received free computers Thursday for participating in a summer leadership program.  

“I am going to study computer engineering so I think it would be very interesting to see how a computer works,” said Tamal, 13, who expressed gratitude for the gift. 

The computers were awarded to 55 students from Buffalo Public Schools and 15 students from Maryvale, Frontier and Lake Shore school districts. 

Students who showed leadership potential were nominated by teachers and school staff to participate in the Leaders in Training program, a four-week summer program run by Western New York United Against Drug & Alcohol Abuse. The sessions, held at Lorraine Academy Monday through Friday, taught students life skills like how to balance a checkbook, leadership development and social skills. Students also participated in plays and explore the creative writing process through an English Language Arts curriculum. 

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Tammy Bennett, program director of the LIT program, said some students were crying and in shock when they were told last week that they were being given computers. 

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen what has happened and the divide that we had in having to go virtual and having the students need what they need at their homes,” said Bennett. “It means so much to them that they’re going to have their own devices at their house to do what they need to do to be successful as they move on with their careers.”  

The free computers were given away through a partnership with Mission:IGNITE, a local tech nonprofit, through grants provided by AT&T and Digitunity, a nonprofit based in New Hampshire. 

For many in the program, like eighth grade student Aniyah Horn, 13, who is heading to Hutchinson Central Technical High School this fall, it was the first computer they’ve owned.

“I’m really excited because I’ve never had my own computer to myself, so I’m going to put it to good use. I can disassemble and reassemble the computer and code it to my own abilities,” said Horn. 

AT&T worked with Digitunity to select 10 cities across the country to give out computers to marginalized communities and communities in need, said Benjamin Roberts, director of Public Affairs for AT&T.

“We know that the internet is an important aspect of all education right now. We want them to just know how to use the computers. A lot of low income, under resourced communities just don’t have the digital literacy experience,” said Roberts. 

“Our hope is that the students become interested in technology as potentially a career or education path,” said Kevin Hanna, director of external affairs at AT&T. 

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