By Kathy Desmond, President, and Tan Vu, Director of Digital Inclusion, People’s Emergency Center
People’s Emergency Center (PEC) has been providing Philadelphians with free to low-cost Internet access, digital literacy training, and refurbished equipment since 2003, with the support of a host of funders, partners, and volunteers, including Comcast and its employees.
Initially a strategy to help our West Philadelphia neighbors and families who were experiencing homelessness to cross the digital divide, PEC’s Center for Digital Inclusion and Technology has led the way to deliver more than 210,000 hours of training and distribute more than 1,300 computers to youth and community centers over the past five years.
One thing we have learned is that there is little point of delivering Internet access as a tool to recipients without the training to use this resource wisely, and the equipment to generate access.
The Internet offers so much more to communities in need than access to social media and surfing – from applying for jobs; to homework help; to managing health care and insurance; to researching colleges, scholarships, and online classes; crossing the digital divide is poised to be another great equalizer in America, just like the education reform of the 1800s.
According to reports from the U.S. Census and the Pew Charitable Trust, 26.5% of Philadelphians continue to live below the poverty level and only 64% of our youth graduate from high school (compared to 15.4% and 78% respectively nationwide). Only 40% of Philadelphians with an income of $25,000 or less have bridged the digital divide.
With the support of Comcast we are able to offer:
- Day and evening classes serving students with a variety of schedules, such as working adults, out-of-school youth, and senior community members
- A Digital Connectors after school digital leadership program at Paul Robeson High School
- Other after-school technology programs at University City High, West Philadelphia High School, Overbrook High School, Girard College, Martha Washington, Middle Years Alternative, and Belmont Charter.
We are grateful to be working with Internet Essentials from Comcast this year to stretch the bridge across the digital divide further for everyone going forward.