In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort; and they shared their work in progress earlier this year. We asked Alonso Reyna Rivarola to give us an update on his work with the Salt Lake Education Foundation.
What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?
A few weeks ago, I went to my aunt’s house to babysit my nephew, Nicolás. While catching up with her, the local Latino radio station was playing on the background. A few minutes into our conversation, I heard the broadcasters announce the names of two Westside Leadership Institute (WLI) participants and now graduates, Mayra and Jorge. When their voices came on the radio, I looked at my aunt and eagerly shouted, “I know them!”
Mayra and Jorge are two of 24 WLI participants who developed in-depth community-based research (CBR) projects this spring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community Learning Campus. The WLI is a community-based leadership development course offered twice a year in collaboration with NeighborWorks Salt Lake and University Neighborhood Partners in the west side of Salt Lake City, Utah. Through the use of technology as a tool for social change, WLI participants researched, developed, implemented, and presented their CBR projects and programs that address community interests and challenges. For example, this year Mayra and Jorge’s team developed a series of workshops to help increase child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah.
As a Digital Inclusion Fellow, it has been a pleasure to work with my community and to utilize technology as a tool for social justice and change. I feel lucky to have worked with the WLI, as it presents a great model for advancing the already-existing leadership in our communities. Furthermore, Mayra and Jorge’s workshop project is an excellent example of the leadership and elaborate projects that WLI participants are able to develop through working with an asset-based lens, fostering nurturing relationships in our community, engaging in deep discussions on social justice and leadership, and utilizing technology as a tool to create positive social change.
Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Salt Lake City to go in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, I want the digital inclusion conversation in Salt Lake City to proactively address the digital divide through the implementation of asset-based and community-centric digital inclusion programs. Currently, there is a demand for organizations in Salt Lake City to advance their missions to include digital inclusion work. However, in order to appropriately address the digital divide, current and new organizations must develop adequate programs and trainings that work from the ground up to address and actively respond to the challenges and interests of the communities with whom they are working. In the next five years, I see organizations across Salt Lake implementing digital inclusion programs, and even new nonprofit organizations being established to address the digital divide. In doing so, these organizations must keep in mind the fast-changing demographics of Salt Lake City, and work towards digital inclusion through the implementation of quality programs that are responsive to community interests, as well cultural and lingual assets the community members possess. Moreover, I hope these emerging programs and organizations are fully dedicated to providing direct digital inclusion services, particularly to the west side of Salt Lake City, and draw from the existing community to develop future trainers who might already be entrenched in community work. Meaningful change and impact do not happen overnight. Consequently, if these new organizations and programs are genuinely committed to advancing digital inclusion, they must also invest in the long-term involvement and development of these individuals, as well as the community.
When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?
Working with the WLI on addressing social justice issues in our community showed me the importance of having a broader objective behind our digital literacy and inclusion work. Through this perspective, it is easier to consider digital literacy a great tool that can help support and amplify the already-incredible work our communities are capable of doing. I am very proud that, this year, a group of 24 community members were able to find a space they felt comfortable in to further develop their interests and knowledge, and to create meaningful projects that address community challenges. I am also happy that some of the WLI participants are now implementing independent projects, which I’m confident will have a positive effect in our communities in the immediate and lasting future.
What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?
I was able to bridge my passion for community leadership development and education by utilizing digital inclusion as a tool for social change. In this capacity, I was able to develop an understanding and approach to working with my community to further develop their interests and social justice agendas. This was an overall really powerful experience, particularly seeing their presentations at the end of the WLI. It was such a privilege to learn from their research, projects, and endeavors to close educational, social, health, and human rights gaps in our community.
How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?
This experience reinforced my work and love for my community, and taught me that I am genuinely invested in continuing to work with my community in an asset-based approach. Acknowledging that we are all knowledge holders, it is really empowering to work with other community members and learn from their work, as well as interests, and with the use of technology support their work to aim for positive and inclusive social change.
Photo: 2016 Westside Leadership Institute (WLI) graduates, (from left to right) Evelia Castrejón, Jorge Zamora, María Guadalupe, and Mayra Zamudio, present their community-based research (CBR) project findings on child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah. Throughout the course of 11 weeks, WLI participants researched, developed, implemented and presented their CBR projects, which covered topics on access to higher education for Latin@ youth in Utah, child abuse awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah, addiction awareness and prevention for Latin@s in Utah, and immigrant rights awareness for Latin@s in Utah. Utilizing technology as a tool for social change, WLI participants developed elaborate presentations for their peers and community.