Antonia “Toni” Stone, creator of one of the country’s first community technology centers, died recently from complications of leukemia. With her death, the community technology movement has lost its founder and one of its most passionate advocates.
In 1980, long before talk of the “digital divide” was commonplace among policymakers and educators, Toni Stone set up Playing to Win (PTW) in the basement of a Harlem housing project. It initially served inmates and ex-offenders by teaching computer skills and offering technical assistance to prisons and rehabilitation agencies. But PTW quickly became a vital resource to the larger Harlem community, providing residents and community groups free access to and expertise with desktop computers and other digital technologies. In subsequent years Stone took advantage of the Internet to connect PTW with other community technology centers in urban areas, creating a network of centers known as PTWNet.
Stone brought her network to EDC in 1992 with the goal of expanding its reach and effectiveness. With funding from the National Science Foundation, she transformed the network into CTCNet, a national membership organization of community technology centers housed in such places as women’s shelters, youth centers, immigrant resource centers, and other social service agencies. “What Toni accomplished through CTCNet was amazing,” says Tony Streit, CTCNet board member and director of YouthLearn at EDC. “She took a group of about 40 of us doing this work independently and created a community of hundreds and now thousands of people around the country. Toni really understood the value of community, and she knew how to inspire others to value it too.”
During her years at EDC, Stone drew on the center’s resources in education, community-building, and technology application to scale up CTCNet’s reach and professional capabilities. “Toni was a natural at bringing people together from different sectors,” says Vivian Guilfoy, director of EDC’s Education, Employment, and Community Programs (EEC). “She helped us strengthen connections between community organizations, employers, educators, and researchers, while never wavering in her conviction that the work we all were doing was first and foremost about people, not technology. For example, under Toni’s leadership, we completed one of the first studies to evaluate the impact that CTC’s has on the lives of individuals and communities.”
Today CTCNet is an independent organization, providing professional resources, technical assistance, and colleagueship to more than 1,000 community technology centers around the country. PTW also remains a vital force in the network, bringing computer literacy programs to Harlem and sharing its expertise with other technology and community-based organizations.
Toni Stone left EDC and CTCNet in 1997, but continued to be a leader in the community technology field as an advocate and advisor to others working to promote technical literacy and equity around the world. She delivered the keynote address for the Community Networking Global 2000 conference in Barcelona. More recently she participated in an innovative multi-media Greater Boston Broadband Network program. She was also honored with many awards including the lifetime achievement award from the Harvard chapter of Women in Technology, an honorary degree from De Paul University’s College of Computer Science, and the Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
“It was a privilege to know and work with Toni,” says Guilfoy. “Her passion inspired thousands and her sharp mind served up great humor along with great wisdom. Toni’s walk through the world made it a much better place.” She will be greatly missed by her friends and colleagues at EDC.
Originally published on January 1, 2003