People’s Emergency Center (PEC) and Comcast are working together to bring Internet access and technology offerings to previously disconnected people in Philadelphia, building on nearly two decades of collaboration on digital inclusion and digital literacy – and now offering career building skills like robotics, 3D modeling and flight simulation.
A Shared History
Comcast has held a longtime commitment to bridging the digital divide. Among other initiatives, the company launched Internet Essentials, its signature digital inclusion program, ten years ago to help connect as many low-income families as possible to broadband Internet at home. Together with schools, local leaders and nonprofits like PEC, Comcast has helped bring connectivity to 520,000 people in Philadelphia and surrounding areas through Internet Essentials.
Meanwhile, PEC has also worked to address digital inequity. Rooted in West Philadelphia and founded by two local ministers as a shelter for individuals and families in 1972, PEC offers thought leadership, strong engagement and collaboration, using housing as a platform to create pathways out of poverty. When PEC formed its digital literacy department to that end in 2005, Comcast saw an opportunity to provide support.
“PEC’s work to meet a variety of needs for Philadelphia families makes the organization an important friend to support,” said Robert F. Smith, Comcast Regional Vice President for Community Impact. “We’ve been thrilled to help PEC offer digital literacy and inclusion services to its constituents.”
Since then, Comcast and PEC have teamed up to offer digital literacy training to help kids, adults, and seniors access technology and gain skills to get connected to the Internet and learn software, programming and robotics. Participants learn to navigate Microsoft software including Word and Excel – and learn to navigate the Internet safely and effectively. Since 2003, PEC has delivered computer training to more than 3,300 participants of all ages and distributed more than 1,300 free computers.
Most recently, Comcast partnered with PEC to launch three WiFi-Connected Lift Zones at their facilities where PEC constituents can connect to broadband, safely. These are three of more than 100 Lift Zones across Greater Philadelphia.
“One of the most moving experiences when I started with PEC was the opportunity to see the pride our students took in gaining technology skills that they had worked so hard to achieve,” says Kathy Desmond, president of PEC. “To see students so proud of their work in learning these skills was motivating to me and my colleagues.”
Serving Constituents with Patience and Flexibility
Students can find success in PEC programs because of the staff’s patience, willingness to challenge students during the learning process and focus on repetition.
A 76-year-old student of basic computer skills, Robert Quarles appreciates that his teacher sits with him and encourages him to find out how to perform computer functions on his own.
“That’s how real learning takes place,” Quarles says. “If the did it for you, you wouldn’t end up learning. PEC instructors know that and show me great patience, sitting by my side as I work things out.” Quarles has learned to work with folders for keeping records and files. He plans to continue taking PEC’s digital literacy classes to learn more.
Other constituents are grateful to have new skills for their profession. Yunis Sydnor works in tourism sales and marketing and finds spreadsheet seminars particularly useful.
“Spreadsheet creation and organization really benefits my work,” says Sydnor. “I also appreciate that PEC offers so many options for class times. It helps me to join when it is most convenient for me and allows my schedule to review material in repeated classes as needed.”
Repetition is important to PEC programs, according to Nathan Kuruna, manager of PEC’s Center for Digital Inclusion and Technology. “During the pandemic we came up with the idea to offer our classes up to five times per week,” says Kuruna. “That way we can accommodate a wider range of schedules and people can retake and relearn classes to truly master the skills we teach.”
Responding to the Pandemic
PEC and Comcast have worked hard to adapt to changing circumstances in service of constituents. When the pandemic forced PEC to close its computer lab, PEC and Comcast supplied refurbished devices to people who needed them.
“We worked hard to bridge the digital divide for our community and our residents,” says Desmond. “All of our services went digital, including our class offerings. We put in place training to ensure kids and families in our shelters could be connected to the Internet and attend school and maintain employment. Comcast and the School District helped us to achieve this.”
Those devices that were distributed proved crucial for working professionals like Cheryl Janifer, who works in education as a classroom assistant. Janifer received a computer to aid in working from home and maintain connections to her community and support network.
One of the most important programs PEC put in place during the pandemic was for seniors and senior centers. “Seniors were feeling disconnected from what was happening in the world,” says Desmond. “They didn’t have computers, so we provided access for them. Thanks to our programs and Comcast’s support, seniors were able to gain knowledge of what was happening in the world from a source other than whatever they saw on TV.”
PEC looks forward to the day it can reopen its computer lab and resume normal open access hours to assist constituents. PEC will continue connecting people to affordable Internet options like Comcast’s Internet Essentials program and will keep teaching new ways to expand their skills.
“We’re really excited about our new programming, which will include robotics, 3-D modeling and printing, and flight simulation,” says Desmond. “We’re especially looking forward to a new collaboration with the Tuskegee airmen to provide classes on aviation using flight simulators.”
Meanwhile, Comcast continues to work to help further close the digital divide and give even more low-income Americans the tools and resources they need to succeed in an increasingly digital world, recently announcing a $1 billion investment over the next 10 years – this includes investing in Lift Zones.
Just as they have done over the past 16 years, Comcast and PEC will continue to adjust to changing circumstances and help constituents of all ages learn and grow in new, impactful ways.