GUEST BLOG: Digital Inclusion Fellowship -- Working to Expand Online Access and Literacy
The Google Fiber blog is excited to feature a guest blog from a former NTEN
Digital Inclusion Fellow --DEADLINE EXTENDED: applications for next year’s
program are now open, due on November 27, 2017.
“Wait, what exactly is it
you do again?” was a frequent question I was asked by my new co-workers during
my first weeks as a Digital Inclusion Fellow at Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership (CMHP). CMHP is a broad-based, private, nonprofit
housing development and financial corporation organized to expand affordable
and well-maintained housing within stable neighborhoods for low and moderate-income families in the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. We have
dedicated staff who work with people to buy their first home, avoid
foreclosure, and move in to affordable housing. A new digital inclusion
program at CMHP would be a unique animal, and I figured it would be an
exciting challenge to find ways to weave digital inclusion throughout
seemingly unrelated existing programs .
As it turns out, digital inclusion seamlessly intersects with many, many
factors necessary for a high quality of life and opportunity in our
communities --including housing. As a Fellow, I was able to work with staff
to integrate aspects of digital literacy into their work with clients. Whether
it be how to search online for affordable housing options, manage a bank
account online, or check your credit score before applying for a mortgage.
Along the way we also discovered how digital literacy classes can serve as
a forum for building a sense of community between neighbors.
As a Fellow, I worked with a variety of partners to highlight the connection
between Internet access and daily life in areas such as health, education, and
financial literacy. I created digital literacy curricula and tailored classes
to meet the unique needs of the students in the room. This allowed our program
participants to work toward their own definition of success. One student was
able to learn how to use Facebook to connect with long-lost family members in
Somalia. Another participant was just as thrilled to learn how to watch her
pastor preach during the live streaming church service. During a “health +
digital literacy” class, one student left satisfied when she learned how to
share a photo of herself 50 lbs. slimmer. These varying pictures of success
were what made being a Fellow such a meaningful experience. I was privileged
to both teach and learn from hundreds of students (and volunteers!), and to be
there to cheer them on when they reached their personal goals.
Upon completion of the Fellowship year, all questions about how digital
inclusion could possibly make sense in our nonprofit housing organization have
disappeared. I am fortunate to now be a permanent full-time employee at CMHP
as the Community Engagement Specialist, where digital inclusion remains one of
my key priorities. Recently, I was able to go back and visit past Computer
Basics 101 students. These were residents at Cheshire Chase, one of CMHP’s
affordable housing communities where Google Fiber is providing free gigabit
internet to all residents and E2D provided each
class participant a refurbished laptop. The coalescence of high speed Internet
access, devices, and digital literacy training all in one place helped
residents make the most of their educational and professional opportunities..
What a difference a year makes --you can hear firsthand from residents what
this program meant to them and their families in this video.
If you are a staff member at an organization interested in helping your
community bridge the digital divide, now is your time! NTEN is currently
accepting applications for 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellows, funded by Google Fiber and other companies, in cities across the
country through November 27, 2017. Apply today!
Posted by Cache Owens, former Digital Inclusion Fellow and current Community Engagement Specialist, Charlotte Mecklenburg Housing Partnership, Inc.