Bilingual English/Spanish volunteers assist community members at the Computer Help Lab at the Provo City Library in Utah. Image: Courtesy of Claire Warnick.
April 11, 2019

‘A fire has been lit’: 2018 Fellowship sparks digital inclusion projects across the U.S.

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Connecting Kansas City’s 311 Center and the local public library system. Expanding a peer training Digital Ambassadors program in San Antonio, Texas. Launching a Spanish-language Digital Skills 101 class in Jersey City, New Jersey.

These are just three outcomes from the 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowships that wrapped up earlier this year. In the fourth Fellowship Cohort, 16 community and public service professionals from a range of organizations—from housing authorities and community development corporation to libraries and city governments across the U.S.—dedicated their work in 2018 to develop and implement a project plan to create new opportunities for digital literacy.

“The Fellows in this cohort were brilliantly creative. Their programs were innovative in both design and implementation. It’s been a joy to work with people who thoroughly understand the importance of digital literacy and are so deeply committed to the communities they serve, ”says NTEN Senior Education Manager Drew Pizzolato.

Here are highlights of several Fellows’ work to create diverse, community-based programs that help to bridge the digital divide. To learn more about each Fellow’s project, check out the Fact Sheets from the Fellowship’s Fourth Cohort.

Build a strong (and award-winning) peer training program

Fellow Munirih Jester of San Antonio, Texas launched the peer training program Digital Ambassadors to help provide residents of the San Antonio Housing Authority with digital literacy training, computers, and connection to the internet. The Digital Ambassadors are trained on onsite IT support, and conducting small group computer literacy classes on computer and internet basics, email, online safety, and more.

For her work, Munirih received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award at the 2019 Net Inclusion conference earlier this month.

New digital literacy courses and partnerships

In addition to providing one-on-one tutoring and digital literacy support, Fellow Evert Keller of the Austin Public Library trained new digital literacy specialists and coordinated the launch of a new series of classes hosted in under-utilized computer lab space. Evert also developed strong working relationships with the other digital inclusion workers at the Austin Public Library and across departments of the City of Austin.

“A fire has been lit on the subject of digital inclusion here at Austin Public Library,” says Evert.

Breaking the cycle of poverty with tech courses

Lindsey Sipe with Project LIFT in Charlotte, North Carolina partnered with Digital Charlotte to developed a six-week technology course. Families who participated received 12 hours of digital literacy training on hardware, Microsoft OS, and Office Suite, and job application skills. Parents who completed the course received a free E2D laptop and a Mobile Citizen hotspot with unlimited connectivity. 95 people completed the course so far and the program is on target to graduate 240 more families by June 2019.

“This year has changed my life, my social awareness, and my passion for the underserved community of Charlotte,” says Lindsey.

Workforce development + partnerships = mobile job lab

Anthony Hale of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library in Alabama developed a two-fold strategy to support area job seekers. First, he organized tools and templates he collected for patrons into a resource for a dedicated job lab supported by volunteers he recruited and trained. Second, with the help of a grant awarded from the local digital inclusion fund, he launched a mobile job lab that offers partners onsite training for their clients and communities.

The strategy was successful both to help job seekers find work and build new community partnerships for the library. Anthony says, “We have forged several great community partners over the year. The best have been with the local Google Fiber office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation of Huntsville. The success has been the result of the library becoming a viable partner in local workforce development projects.”

The fifth cohort of the Fellowship is now underway, and NTEN will feature blog posts and updates as the Fellows implement their projects. To learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship or to connect with a Fellow, email dif@nten.org.

Erin Adams
Originally from North Carolina, Erin has more than 15 years of experience in multi-platform communications, non-profit marketing, fundraising and membership, and print journalism. She believes in the power of stories (and food) to bring people together. She's lived and worked in Asheville, NC, Nashville, TN, the DC/Maryland area, and Charlotte, NC, prior to moving to the Portland, OR area.