By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
ECCF Communications Writer
Having a computer and access to the internet is critical to functioning in the everyday world, especially now that so much of what we do happens online. But those things only represent half of the equation.
“If you don’t know how to set up an email account, conduct an online job search or protect your private information, it’s difficult to make full use of a computer and the internet,” said Kate Machet, ECCF’s director of strategic initiatives and community leadership.
That’s why ECCF has partnered with nonprofit Tech Goes Home and five community organizations throughout Essex County – MakeIt Haverhill, Lawrence Community Works, the North Shore Community Development Coalition in Salem, the Latino Support Network of Lynn and Wellspring House in Gloucester – on a digital literacy initiative that by spring will give more than 50 residents the training they need to successfully navigate digital life.
“We know that digital literacy and equity is a requirement for thriving in today’s world and in a competitive economy,” said Keith Boucher, co-founder of MakeIt Haverhill, a program of Community Action Inc. located in the Mount Washington neighborhood. “And we are excited to be working with Tech Goes Home to connect more people in Haverhill with the digital tools and training they need to access education, employment and other opportunities, including through multilingual programming.”
Since 2019, MakeIt Haverhill – a completely volunteer-led organization – has leveraged its 2,000-square foot community space to support the ability of job seekers, regardless of socio-economic status, to network, learn and ultimately generate employment opportunities.
“Our students, both Spanish and English speakers, are so enthusiastic to learn computer skills,” said Tim Haynes, the organization’s digital literacy and equity leader. “We’ve had 100% attendance to date.”
In the late fall of 2021, MakeIt Haverhill graduated its first class of computer literacy students, who learned basic keyboarding and mouse skills, how to register online with job sites like MassHire, how to navigate the Internet and to use different software products. Students received a total of 15 hours of instruction over four weeks and, upon successful completion of the program, were able to take home a laptop and a full year of free internet access, thanks to Tech Goes Home.
“Some of our graduates said they are now looking for work, some in their 60s or 70s were happy to learn more about being safe online, while others learned how to conduct telehealth calls with their doctors,” Boucher told the Eagle Tribune at the Nov. 14 graduation. “Each person was looking for a different skill to better their lives, whether it was looking for a job or being connected with the world.”
New Digital Literacy programs at ECCF’s other partner organizations are currently underway. Over the next three years, through this collaborative initiative, ECCF will arm 800 learners across Essex County with computer skills that will empower them to improve their lives.
“One of the many great things about this digital literacy program is that the five partner organizations are collaborating on a community of practice,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “They are learning from each other so that what is working for one organization can be leveraged for another. Together, they really form a system of support for Essex County residents.”