Angela Allen didn’t know the first thing about computers, but thanks to an innovative new program she’s got the basics down pat and is poised to learn more through the city’s KEYSPOT program.
“We’ve had someone teach us so many things about the Internet,” Allen said. “I actually learned how to Google.”
Allen took basic computing classes at the LIFT center at 56th and Chestnut in West Philadelphia. She didn’t need anything except the desire to learn.
“I am able to bring just myself to LIFT,” she said. “We have an instructor in front of us and a computer in our hands.”
Classes at LIFT, which are first come first serve, run about two and half hours every Monday and Saturday, and cover everything someone needs to get started.
“I learned how to go into Word and open documents,” she said. “We learned about search engines. Browsers. I learned that I can talk through my email. This just amazed me.”
KEYSPOT has been around since June 2011. It’s a program that brings together a number of non-profits throughout the city in an effort to bridge the city’s digital divide. However, this week, the Freedom Rings Partnership rolled out a new segment of the program – mobile units, akin to bookmobiles, that will take the Internet and between 15 and 19 computers into underserved neighborhoods across the city.
Ultimately, organizers hope to have four vans operating around Philadelphia. They will be operated in conjunction with 77 KEYSPOT centers, which will be hosted at 19 recreation centers, 10 homeless shelters, 15 PHA sites and 29 by various community groups.
Seventy of the sites are already open and serving an estimated 3,000 people a week.
According to Mayor Michael Nutter, who attended the launch Monday at Philadelphia OIC in North Philadelphia, 41 percent of Philadelphians lack Internet access. In addition to bolstering computer literacy, the program will create about 120 jobs. And, allow more city residents to get the skills they need to get a job.
“Digital literacy is no longer an option, it’s a necessity,” Nutter said. “Education is what lifts people out of poverty.”
Cheryl Roane said computer classes at OIC helped her get her GED, and now she’s in community college studying to get a degree in early childhood education.
“It’s a lifelong dream,” she said.
The mobile units will be run through OIC.
“We’re taking technology to the neighborhood,” said OIC President Bob Nelson. “If people can’t come here, we’ll go there.”
At a cost of $25.1 million, KEYSPOTS program is paid for through federal stimulus money and private funding from a number of sources.
According to data released by the U.S. Department of Commerce in December, just 55 percent of Black households have wired Internet access at home. That compares to 57 percent for Hispanics and 72 percent for whites.