Bridging The Digital Divide One Person At A Time

a man sitting on a couch using a laptop

Sixty-three-year-old Morris Russell (shown right) is house manager and certified peer support specialist for Fellowship Home in Winston-Salem, a structured residential program designed to help men recovering from addiction get back on their feet. Mr. Russell himself is in recovery and is looking for a better-paying job.

Wayne William recently moved to Winston-Salem and is currently working in maintenance at the Winston-Salem Urban League Senior Community Service Employment Program. A handyman by trade, he wants to get into warehouse work or become a fork lift driver.

Two people trying to make a better life for themselves. Two people struggling to find more meaningful work but who lack computer know-how. Two people benefiting from a special program that has helped them increase their ability to find new employment.

The program that is bringing hope to Mr. Russell and Mr. William came into being through a shared vision between Forsyth Tech, AT&T and WinstonNet. It was launched this past summer with 18 participants and is designed to provide financially and digitally disadvantaged residents of Forsyth County with basic computer skills training as well as an affordable computer.

AT&T funded the program with a $5,000 grant to WinstonNet. WinstonNet approached Forsyth Tech about screening for candidates who met the program’s guidelines, designing the five-week training module and providing the hands-on training. An organization out of Raleigh, The Kramden Institute, provided refurbished laptops to each of the students who successfully completed the program.

“The goal of this program is to make a difference in our immediate community by helping self-motivated adults gain basic computer operating language, build a resume and complete an online job application,” says Sharon Anderson, dean of Community & Economic Development programs at Forsyth Tech. “At the local level, we must narrow the digital divide to give all citizens access to economic prosperity.”

As of fall 2014, 50 adults had completed the program.

How successful was it?

“I have already applied my new computer skills to the work I do at Fellowship Home, which is saving me a lot of time,” says Mr. Russell. “You’re never too old to learn.”

“My grandchildren used to tease me because I didn’t even know how to turn on a computer,” Mr. William says. “But since taking the training course at Forsyth Tech, I now have my own email address, Facebook page and gmail account. I love my new computer. It’s expanded my world!”

In a country where nearly one-third of U.S. households do not have a computer in the home, and 28 percent of Americans don’t use the Internet at all, community-based outreach programs like the one formed by Forsyth Tech, AT&T and WinstonNet are closing the digital divide one person at a time.