More than 70 computer training centers in Philadelphia have been given new life and helped familiarize more than 10,000 low-income residents with digital technology in the past year.
Next up for the KEYSPOT initiative, backed by the Freedom Rings Partnership, is to figure out what to do when the $18 million initial federal stimulus funding runs out a year from now. It’s something the partnership is putting as among its top priorities says Joanne Ferroni, among the Drexel University-based coordinators.
“We are working with sites and managing partners to come up with a collective vision for digital literacy and then support individual partners to sustain their own efforts,” said Ferroni. “We are collectively working toward a broad-based funding strategy that will support Philadelphia becoming the most digitally literate and digitally engaged city in the country.”
Since first rolling out these centers with a kickoff last May, these locations have served as more than just the traditional computer lab focusing on providing hardware for users, organizers say. KEYSPOT centers, which include bolstered rec centers and existing nonprofit organizations, provide classes and one-on-one instruction to people looking to gain basic online skills along with the standard computer monitor and keyboard.
So now organizers are out trying to keep them alive past next summer, as direct funding to keep centers open (lights, staffing, equipment etc.) closes in June 2013 and additional support managed by the Urban Affairs Coalition ends in August 2013.
Another piece of the puzzle is the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP. This program has three main objectives, to connect community infrastructures such as schools and hospitals to the Internet, provide public computer centers and increase broadband Internet usage.
[Full Disclosure: KEYSPOT was a sponsor and event partner during Philly Tech Week 2012]
The federal funding comes as part of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that also provides financial assistance to housing, education and healthcare institutions. The two years worth of funding is the governments way to combat the divide in Philadelphia, which as been successful so far.
The initiative is cheered by the administration as a public-private partnership success story, bringing together dozens of private institutions and the City of Philadelphia. The City’s Division of Technology works to manage the funds granted to the City of Philadelphia by the federal government for what has become the KEYSPOT effort.
That effort is portrayed as nothing short of being the city’s ground game against a massive divide between a growing, web literate creative and professional class and an at least 40 percent chunk of Philadelphia households that have no Internet access — who will be increasingly unable to find work in the future.
Classes offered at KEYSPOT centers teach people not only how to navigate the web and social media sites but also how to apply for jobs and manage accounts like online banking. In addition to this, instructors help teach participants how to create a resume and how to use Microsoft Word to write a proper cover letter. The main objective of the classes offered at the KEYSPOT locations is to help people find jobs — a spirit found in a Philly Tech Week event held by the Frankford CDC.
“We have a training center here called CET, which is the Center for Employment and Training. We make sure that [the clients] are proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint and that they also know how to job search online and make sure they have a professional email account,” said Hamidou Traore, computer instructor for the KEYSPOT located at the Families First/People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia, which also serves as a shelter and food pantry as we’ve heard before.
Watch a video about KEYSPOT partner location.
Since December 2011, 74 KEYSPOT locations have opened across Philadelphia, including offering additional services at existing community centers. Through use of these locations more than 100,000 hours of online and computer training has been provided to more than 10,000 participants. This is in addition to the 113 jobs that were either saved or created by the KEYSPOT by offering funding for staffing at existing similar centers, according to the Freedom Rings Partnership.
Once participants successfully complete a series of training classes they are given a free Netbook. This free distribution of Netbooks reached 1,774 as of March 2012. Although many participants still do not have at-home Internet access, through training they learn how many of their smartphones can be used as a Hotspot in order to gain online access for their Netbook — and there are also tools like Connect Philly to help connect residents with free wireless spots.
“One of the keys is to help partners to see a KEYSPOT as more than just the computing center within an organization—by having a KEYSPOT they have the ability to integrate digital literacy into every aspect of how they serve their clients,” said Ferroni.
But the KEYSPOT project is already two thirds through its funding cycle, though Ferroni is quick to boast its impact.
“We are on track with our spending goals but have surpassed our performance goals,” she said, referencing the number of training hours and individuals reached. “We recognize that life after the grant will look very differently than it does today and that we aren’t likely to get another $18 million to sustain our efforts.”
The centers additionally have provided a place for children to spend time. With school out for the summer, the KEYSPOT centers have experienced a large increase in numbers of school-aged children attending the labs during operating hours, said those at the People’s Emergency Center. With instructors on-site during this time, kids get supervision and are taught how to navigate the web safely.
“The interesting offshoots that have been happening training-wise I’ve found are with our young people who are very interested in the things like multimedia production,” Lorelei Shingledecker said. Singledecker is the program manager for BTOP, the driving funding of the Freedom Rings Partnership, at the People’s Emergency Center in West Philadelphia.
There are a few projects aimed at youth who attend the KEYSPOT locations and are interested in the ins-and-outs of multimedia production.
“We’ve been running a stop-motion animation class at two agencies in West Philadelphia. We’ve also run Photoshop classes, classes in digital photography and we’re also running a podcasting class for young adults in the lab across from here [at People’s Emergency Center,]” Shingledecker said.
Families First/People’s Emergency Center is just one of the many locations providing assistance for those seeking computer education. Another location is called Critical Path Project in Center City. Critical Path works with participants who are looking to gain basic online skills and is also partnered with Philadelphia FIGHT, which housed the first KEYSPOT to open, to raise awareness and dole out education about HIV/AIDS.
“When people know how to find information they know how to protect themselves,” Deaglan Daugherty, digital inclusion manager for Philadelphia FIGHT said. Information in many forms.
Critical Path normally provides Internet education classes, however during the month of June â€“ AIDS education month â€“ they shut down their regular class sessions and instead devoted their time directly towards teaching participants about HIV/AIDS and how to find reliable information about the diseases on the web.
Critical Path also does its best to dispel the many myths surrounding the sexually transmitted diseases and hopes they are making a difference, said Daugherty.
“We teach them how to find reliable information and how to separate fact from opinion when it comes to medical information,” Daugherty said.
Beyond the educational services, Critical Path offers free email accounts, listserv and website hosting to all of its participants. All of these online services are completely secure and private, without any forms of advertising on the sites. Services such as these are useful for someone looking for a job or to promote their own business, a goal Critical Path aims to achieve like the rest of the KEYSPOT locations.
The KEYSPOT initiatives are a meant to be a bright spot in the recovery of a Philadelphia economy that hits hardest its most economically depressed areas. The computer labs are designed to help low-income areas gain Internet awareness and have the ability to improve their quality of life by doing so, and the numbers show the impact.
The Internet is responsible for 21 percent of economic growth in developed nations and provides educational services to more than 6,000,000 students taking online classes in the United States, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report.
While wealthier households are more likely to have a computer or broadband Internet access, poorer homes don’t have either and are more likely to use a smartphone to access the web.
“There are some startling statistics about how many jobs are only available online,” sad Lindsey Keck, program manager of Computing Centers for the City of Philadelphia’s Division of Technology. “Unless we really equip people with the skill sets and the opportunities to access the Internet and computers to be able to apply for those jobs that will just be yet another barrier that continues to create the stark divide between the haves and have-nots.”
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