Through the first five months of 2014, a total of 459 separate individuals have been students in our free classes, with many attending multiple sessions. This is remarkable since many training sessions were cancelled due to harsh winter weather in in the early part of the new year. Attendance in at least one three-hour class session is required to purchase a $75.00 refurbished computer.
So, who are we reaching through our basic Internet and computer skills program?
25% have never used a computer
75% are over 50 years old
80% are minorities, predominantly African American
75% have incomes of under $20,000 a year
90% purchased a computer from us after their taking the class
2/3 of the participants in the free classes are women
1/2 of women 60+ have a child under 18 years old living with them
Here are a few of the stories of lives that have been touched in significant ways through these efforts.
One 68 year old senior living in low income housing felt very alone. All of her family members had moved to Texas and California. Because of her limited budget, after completing the classes it took her 3 months to pay for a computer on our “lay away” plan . In the meantime, we taught her how to use Facebook and it’s chat feature. Before, she had very limited contact with her children and grandchildren and just a few pictures at holidays.
Using Facebook she now sets times to chat with her daughter and grandchildren. She is also able to see their photos in sports, school functions and family activities. She also does chat sessions with her son every week. This is so important for her because all she can afford is a cell phone with limited minutes.
Because she is now “digital,” she no longer feels unwanted, abandoned or old and unnecessary. Instead, by staying in touch with her family, she now feels loved, wanted, needed and has more fun. Getting a computer, learning how to use it and being a part of the world and connected changed her life dramatically.
An even more dramatic change happened in the life of a 23 year old single mother who was living on public assistance with two children when we first met her. Knowing she wasn’t providing for her children, she, too, experienced struggles with self-esteem and hopelessness. With minimal education, no marketable job skills or computer knowledge she was going nowhere fast. Over a period spanning several months, this young lady attended our basic classes and learned how to use a computer for the first time.
Because of her limited income, it took her four months to pay for her $50 refurbished computer. She did it by taking on odd jobs to earn the money. During this time, we provided her with one-on-one assistance to learn how to apply for jobs and to develop a top notch resume. She also asked for our help with interviewing skills and choosing appropriate attire.
The good news is that she did get an office job and then a promotion within six months of being hired. Besides moving from public assistance to a career, she also completed her GED and is taking college courses on line. All of this happened within the span of just nine months!
In another instance, we worked with an unemployed 38 year old woman who could neither read nor write. She learned how to use a computer and the Internet for the first time in our free classes. Outside of the sessions, we introduced her to educational word games. Using them, she taught herself how to read, write and spell. Because we made it fun for her, she came in every day for several months.
Once she started learning, her thirst for education was fueled, she couldn’t get enough. She had to have a computer she could use at home. Like the other two women, because of her limited income, the only way she could purchase a refurbished PC was to take on odd jobs, like scrubbing floors. Before long, she was able to get a part time job and her self-esteem and confidence have blossomed.
These are just three of the many lives that are being changed as our organization works to provide affordable access to technology and practical skills to people in Kansas City’s under served inner city neighborhoods. We can only do this because of the volunteer efforts and financial contributions of those who share our vision. We especially need your help during these summer months.
- Make a donation now to Connecting for Good.
- Make a difference by becoming a volunteer
- Give us your used computers
1) More training to get new Internet users online. Last year over 1,000 people in under resourced urban neighborhoods participated in our free digital life skills classes. We are now operating two training centers, one in Kansas and one in Missouri, which will enable us to reach twice as many this year. Besides those who are challenged economically, we are also bringing this training to senior citizens and the disabled. And, we have begun teaching digital literacy instructional skills to the staff members of other nonprofit organizations, churches and civic groups. Those who complete classes they sponsor will also be able to purchase one of our high quality refurbished computer systems for as little as $50.00.
2) Increased capacity to produce low cost refurbished PCs. In the last few months, we significantly upgraded our computer refurbishing facilities at 3101 Troost in Kansas City, MO with new walls, shelves, workbenches, and a new heating system. Most importantly, improvements were made to the electrical system so it can handle an increased demand for power. We now have a full-time manager of the refurbishing program. In 2013, we placed 600 inexpensive refurbished computers into the homes of low income Kansas City families. With a more efficient workshop and a growing core of dedicated volunteers, we will produce at least 200 units per month in 2014. To keep pace with this demand, we will be reaching out to the community, businesses, and government agencies to provide us with used desktops and laptops to use in this program.
3) More families reached through our new community technology center. Last month, regular programming started at the Northeast Wyandotte County Community Technology Center. Our second facility is located across the street from the Juniper Gardens public housing complex. In partnership with the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority, we maintain a 20 seat public access computer lab in one of their facilities. Free digital life skills classes are currently offered twice a week and we have three full-time staff members stationed there. With help from summer interns, we are planning programs to reach out to youth in this area. We are already seeing a growing number of teens and preteens using the facility during open lab hours. This center is a model that can be used to reach other under resourced neighborhoods where in-home Internet access is very low. By the end of 2014, we hope to have plans in place to expand this concept to other parts of the Kansas City area.
4) Expanded connectivity in urban core neighborhoods by growing the community wireless network. As a nonprofit wireless ISP, we are providing free in-home Wi-Fi Internet connections to over 500 low income households. Most of them are in three housing projects; Juniper Gardens, Rosedale Ridge and Posada del Sol. We also provide wireless Internet to the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District and the corner of 31st & Troost.
Last year, working with the Free Network Foundation, we produced three feasibility studies for a local school district, a community development organization, and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, which is one of the KC Chamber’s Big 5 initiatives. These studies covered some of Kansas City Missouri’s most needy neighborhoods in the Swope Corridor and the Troost Corridor, areas where up to 80% of households do not have in-home Internet access.
In partnership with local organizations and people who live in these communities, we will be installing additional microwave towers and neighborhood mesh networks to extend the reach of the Kansas City Freedom Network. The model we are using is an Internet co-operative, not unlike a food co-op, where members build and own their piece of the network. We will seek some outside funding to build the infrastructure but we are looking for significant involvement from those who will ultimately become end users of this service. While this is a very unique approach, we believe it is the one that has the greatest probability for long-term sustainability. It is being executed successfully around the world, especially in places like Spain, Germany, Greece and Argentina.
This summer, we hope to create a demonstration wireless project, a “living laboratory,” in one of these inner city neighborhoods. An educational effort with the FNF and other community partners will focus on teaching residents of the urban core, especially young people, how to build, maintain and expand the network. We believe this will plant the seed for organic growth as residents see the opportunity to gain Internet access and develop a digital community for a fraction of the cost of current service options.
Our work will continue with low income families living in Kansas City’s multi-family public housing and Section 8 properties. Besides strengthening the networks we’ve already built, we are looking for additional properties where we can make an impact. We are also providing assistance to nonprofit organizations with affordable IT support and low cost refurbished computers. Computer sales and other self-generated IT-related income will make up at least one third of our income in 2014. For the rest of it our budget, we will continue to rely on individual donations and grant support.
In all of these activities, Connecting for Good has endeavored to include partner agencies in order to strengthen their digital inclusion efforts. Local nonprofit and civic organizations we’ve worked with include:
|Black Economic Union
Black Family Technology Awareness Association
Blue Hills Community Services
Church of the Resurrection – Geeks for God
Code for America
DuBois Learning Center
Green Impact Zone
Hispanic Economic Development Corporation
Ivanhoe Neighborhood Association
Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority
Kansas City Kansas Public Library
Kansas City Public Library
|Kansas City Public Schools
KC Digital Drive
Literacy Kansas City
Metro Lutheran Ministries
Mutual Musicians Foundation
Palestine Neighborhood Association
Rosedale Development Association
Upper Room/Swope Renaissance
Urban Neighborhood Initiative
Urban League of Kansas City
YMCA of Greater Kansas City
Connecting for Good provides free Internet to over 500 households at three different low income housing complexes. This year, we are also on track to provide over 2,000 high quality refurbished computers to qualified low income people for just $50 each. But all of this is only a part of what we do.
The third very important piece is education. We are helping people, especially first-time Internet users, to become productive digital citizens. Last year over 1,000 people in Kansas City’s urban core learned how to send email and browse the Internet in our free digital life skills classes. For them, getting these skills – and getting them quickly – is nearly a matter of survival. In our information society. basic Internet skills are required to find employment, access educational opportunities, and to learn about affordable housing, social services, and decent medical care.
Reaching out to urban youth is becoming an important part of what we do. Every afternoon, our new community technology center in Kansas City, KS is filled with children and teens from the housing project. They are using web sites they learn about in school but can’t access at home without computers.
This summer, we are offering internships to young people who will work with us in teaching adults, children and senior citizens how to use computers and the Internet. Other young interns be will working in our PC refurbishing operations. They will gain new skills while serving their community by helping us take donated computer equipment and turn it into high quality, low cost PCs. We are also planning a summer program that involves young people in working with us to extend the wireless network to bring inexpensive Internet to more neighborhoods in Kansas City’s east side.
In Kansas City, MO, nearly 18,000 children are attending school in a district that has lost its accreditation. 70% of these school kids do not have an Internet connection at home. This is a real problem that should not be ignored because it puts them on such an uneven playing field academically.
At Connecting for Good, we are focused on long-term systemic change in communities that have been deprived of the benefits of technology. The Digital Divide really is just the same old social, racial, economic and political divide that has kept urban core residents so under resourced. Today, however, being technology-deprived puts people in under resourced communities at an even greater disadvantage.
While the Kansas City area is becoming a thriving tech center, most new workers in technology companies are coming from out-of-town. We want to change that by offering programs that get urban young people interested in technology-related careers. In order to do this, we are linking arms with civic leaders and community activists in as many sectors as we can. And, at every turn, individual citizens are encouraged to participate – if not financially, then with time and talent. Empowerment through technology is our motto.
Ultimately, our vision is to raise up a corps of urban technologists whose skills and resources will transform Kansas City’s urban core.