By Michelle Xiarhos Curran
ECCF Communications Writer
A successful, collaborative digital equity program piloted in Essex County is now being used as a model to expand work to connect residents with devices, broadband access and training across the state.
The pilot, a collaboration between Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF), Boston-based nonprofit Tech Goes Home (TGH) and five community organizations that serve as host sites, ran from June 2021 to May 2022. At the March meeting of ECCF’s Digital Equity Coalition, TGH Development Manager Alyssa Bogosian shared encouraging data from the pilot that suggests a statewide expansion of the program is likely to have a major impact.
During the pilot phase, more than 100 learners graduated from TGH programs held at Lawrence CommunityWorks, MakeIT Haverhill, North Shore Community Development Coalition, the Latino Support Network and Wellspring, where TGH leverages a “train the trainer” model.
The programming, which includes 15 hours of digital literacy training, a free computer and, upon successful completion of the training, a year of free internet access, is targeted towards communities where ECCF data shows the digital equity gap is widest.
“We’re focused on seven municipalities, six of those are Gateway cities,” said Bogosian.
Of the 100 learners graduating from Essex County-based TGH programming during the pilot phase, 70 percent are Spanish-speaking and 80 percent have a household income below $35,000. Classes are taught in both English and Spanish.
Post-pilot data indicates that participants not only gained skills and confidence, but that what they learned will continue to impact participants’ quality of life.
- 100% of graduates report learning skills that can improve their lives
- 94% report that they have or plan to get home internet access, compared to 73% at the time of their enrollment
- 80% report they are more likely to use the internet for educational purposes
- 45% report they are more likely to use it for health and wellness
- 67% report more likely to use it to communicate with others
- 47% report they will use it for job resources
Since the end of the pilot last May, 120 additional learners have completed TGH programming in Essex County, and TGH and ECCF have already expanded the list of partner sites in the region, including the Lynn Council on Aging, the Haverhill YMCA, the STAR Center at the Essex County Sherriff’s Department and more.
“We’re always adding new partners,” said Bogosian, who added that interested organizations should reach out to TGH to inquire about potential partnerships.
The goal by the end of 2024 is to graduate 800 learners in Essex County ready to take on the digital world.
“We’re constantly building that network so we can continue to reach more people who are experiencing barriers to digital equity,” said Bogosian.
TGH first began offering digital inclusion in the City of Boston more than 20 years ago, and over the past several years, has steadily expanded its reach throughout Boston.
“We know digital equity is a systemic issue across the Commonwealth and further expansion is essential to meet the demand for digital access,” reads a statement in TGH’s full Essex County pilot report, which you can view at www.techgoeshome.org/our-reports.
For more information about Advancing Digital Equity, ECCF’s work to bridge the digital divide in Essex County, please visit www.eccf.org/digital-equity/.