GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- The COVID pandemic forced students into at-home learning, exposing a major technology gaps in many neighborhoods.
Thursday, 100 young scholars at 21st Century Charter School in Gary received brand new Chromebooks, all thanks to a generous donation.
"It feels really special because it's something new and I've never had it before," said Payton Lanier, 6th grader.
Two years ago, widespread remote learning wasn't even an option. Now it's a way of life for many students. But not everyone has access to reliable technology, which is where Gary native Eric Smoot-Hemphill stepped in.
"I remember not having the proper resources to be fully successful," he said.
Smoot-Hemphill co-owns Redefined Fitness in Wilmette. He was homeless, but track and field gave him a way out and now he wants to give back to young people.
"You know what, I wore this shirt for a reason, I'm grateful," Smoot-Hemphill said. "That says it all."
And paying it forward is making a big impact.
"It feels amazing," said 5th grader Kaden Hargrove. "I'm indescribably happy."
Principal Nikki Dates said the donation sends a strong message "that anything is possible."
Smoot-Hemphill and Redefined Fitness raised $60,000 in 14 days, all of which went to buying laptops for children in two local schools.
Gary school gets $30K donation of laptops from Redefined Fitness in Wilmette