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60 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 THE LAST PAGE Bridging the Digital Divide Learning to use computers and the Internet helped these students take positive steps to improve their lives. By Michael Liimatta / Connecting for Good I n the frst fve months of 2014, Connecting for Good taught 459 students in its free digital literacy classes in Kansas City – even though many training sessions had to be canceled because of harsh winter weather. Many students attended multiple sessions. Attending at least one three- hour class session is required to purchase a $50 refurbished computer from Connecting for Good. Te basic Internet and computer skills program reaches a group that has had little opportunity to participate in the digital revolution. Twenty-fve percent have never used a computer, and 75 percent are older than 50. Eighty percent are minorities, predominantly African American, and 75 percent have incomes of less than $20,000 a year. Two-thirds of the participants are women; half of the women older than 60 have a child under 18 in the house. One measure of success is that 90 percent of students purchased a computer from us after their taking the class, but there are other measures as well. Here are a few stories of people whose lives were touched in signifcant ways through these eforts. (Names of participants were changed to protect their privacy.) Annette is 68 years old, lives in low-income housing and once felt very alone. All her family members had moved to Texas or California. Because of her limited budget, she needed three months after completing the classes to pay for a computer on our layaway plan. In the meantime, we taught her how to use Facebook and its chat feature. Previously, she had very limited contact with her children and grandchildren and just received a few pictures at holidays. Using Facebook, Annette now sets times to chat with her daughter and grandchildren. She is able to see photos of them participating in sports, school functions and family activities. She also chats online with her son every week. Tis is important for her because the only cell phone plan she can aford has limited minutes. Because she is now "digital," she no longer feels unwanted, abandoned or old and unnecessary. By staying in touch with her family, she now feels loved, wanted and needed, and she has more fun. Getting a computer, learning how to use it and being a part of the world and connected changed Annette's life dramatically. Sarah , a 23-year-old single mother with two children, was living on public assistance when we frst 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 and no computer knowledge, she was going nowhere fast. Over a period of several months, she attended our basic classes and learned how to use a computer. Because of her limited income, it took Sarah 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 résumé. She also asked for our help in developing interviewing skills and choosing appropriate attire. Sarah got an ofce job and then a promotion within six months of being hired. In addition to moving from public assistance to a career, she completed her GED and is taking college courses online. All this happened within just nine months! Liza , an unemployed 38-year-old woman, could neither read nor write, but she learned how to use a computer and the Internet. We also 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, Liza's thirst for education was fueled. She couldn't get enough. She felt she just had to have a computer that 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, such as scrubbing foors. Before long, Liza was able to get a part-time job, and her self-esteem and confdence have blossomed. v Michael Liimatta is president of Connecting for Good (www. connecting forgood.org), a Kansas City nonproft that has been bridging the digital divide since 2011. You can reach him at michael@connecting forgood.org. Connecting for Good welcomes donations, volunteer help and used computers. To submit a story for BroadBand Communities' Last Page column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.