January 27, 2010

Project Reboot: Bridging the Digital Divide

One of Bread for the City’s clients, Ms. H, is a TANF recipient and the mother of three children. Recently, she was unemployed but very interested in going back to school and in finding a job. Mrs. H had found an on-line college program in which she was interested, but she could not couldn't participate because she did not own a computer and could not afford to buy one. Many of our clients -- who have an average annual income of under $7,000 -- simply cannot afford to spend money on a computer, let alone internet service.

We’ve touched on the implications of the digital divide here before: without access to the internet, it becomes harder for low-income people to find a job, access important information, do their homework and the countless other things that wired folk take for granted.

It's a knotty problem, but as with most problems we have to start with small steps.

One of our favorite small steps is Project Reboot, a non-profit branch of the Capital PC User Group. Project Reboot is a volunteer project that recycles and refurbishes donated computers, and provides them to low-income DC and Maryland residents at a price that is manageable even for most of our clients: ten dollars.

Project Reboot provides about 250 computers per month to low-income clients, non-profits, charities, religious and education groups. Bread for the City refers a few clients each month to Project Reboot. These clients usually need computers for finding and applying to jobs, for job training, or for their children’s or their own schoolwork.

Mrs. H came to Bread for the City for assistance with her situation, and one week later she called her case manager back and thanked her, saying she had not only received a computer for herself, but that she was also eligible for an additional computer from Project Reboot for her children. Ms. H also reported that she had set up Internet service so that she would be able to start on-line college classes. She is now well on her way to earning her Associate’s Degree in Medical Billing and Coding.

This is a success story, but, of course, demand for services like Project Reboot far outweighs their ability to supply. There is also the need for basic computer skill training, provided in part by organizations like Byte Back. Bread for the City is about to announce some exciting details about our very own new computer training course, but these initial efforts can only just begin to bridge the digital divide. Expect more on the topic here in the future.

No comments: