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 Ruben Campillo to give us an update on his work with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?
I think running our pilot program and asking people what they wanted to get out of the class. For some people it was about updating their skills; for others it was being able to find a job; and for some it was about staying connected. One student in particular’s goal was to learn how to save her resume to a USB drive so that she could carry it with her and apply for jobs, because she did not have access to her own computer. We worked with her one-on-one, and she learned how to save her files to a USB drive as well what was important to include in a resume. Shortly after she graduated from the program, she was able to find a job, and it was really encouraging to know that we played a small part in that. Another really uplifting story was that of a student whose main goal was to learn how to use Skype and Facebook so he could stay in touch with his grandchildren. He shared with the class that his daughter had bought him a brand new laptop two years before for this reason, but he did not know how to use it. This is why he had signed up for the class.
Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Charlotte, NC to go in the next 5 years?
I think it is important to realize that the conversation about bridging the digital divide exists within a larger context. There are so many issues that overlap, and we need to find a way to connect our efforts. A person or a family that is not online is also facing other challenges, and even though we are working on one particular issue, we need to do that within the context of how that relates to education, economic mobility, etc.
What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?
Don’t forget that there is a wealth of resources and experiences that you can tap into through the NTEN network. So many times I found myself dealing with an issue that another Fellow already had the answer to. There is no need to recreate the wheel.
When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?
The way in which, within the library system, we were able to bring different people together and collaborate on this project. There were so many people who were eager to support this initiative that it made it really easy to grow the program. In the end, I felt my role was that of a facilitator more than anything else. Our digital inclusion initiative became a collaborative process that was successful because of everyone’s contributions.
What is something that you have struggled with and overcome and learned from?
I guess not a struggle but a reminder that people are often dealing with multiple responsibilities and priorities. It often took following up with people multiple times through multiple means to be able to get a program started, not because they were not interested, but because like everyone else people have competing demands for their time. I was never discouraged and stayed positive; and in the end we had some great collaborations. The lesson is, don’t take it personally. People are busy. Be persistent.