Faith-Based Organizations Play Roles in Bridging the Digital DivideEdit
- source: Kade Twist and Chic Smith
Shy of a full load in Pittsburgh, I dare state.Edit
Faith-based organizations around the nation have become increasingly active in efforts to bridge the digital divide. But, in Pittsburgh's faith community, we've seen little action with technology.
By taking a holistic approach, faith based organizations can be effective.Edit
While these organizations provide Internet access and computer literacy development, they also address some of the more systemic problems that contribute to the digital divide: providing literacy training, critical thinking skills development, professional skills development, community content production, as well as a host of seemingly unrelated services such as personal counseling, nutrition education and clothing.
Drawing on decades of experience in addressing community-specific problems, faith-based organizations are able to maximize their resources and provide a wealth of services in spite of their limitations. These organizations pool in-kind services and human resources, contributions from individuals, corporate donated equipment and small foundation grants into projects that are capable of providing a wealth of services -- including computer labs with Internet access -- for people of all ages and to believers and non-believers alike.
The power of faith-based organizations lies in their ability to successfully exploit their experience in serving a particular community and then tailor their digital divide efforts to mirror the specific needs of that community. Often times, the directors of these organizations become intimately familiar with the families, the corner storeowners, the schoolteachers and the leaders of the community. They often work with these people to assess the community's needs so that they can effectively incorporate them into their organization's efforts. This communicative process enables these organizations to meet the Internet connectivity and computing needs of the greater community while helping community members overcome additional barriers by developing literacy, critical thinking and professional office skills.
The Digital Divide Network is profiling a variety of faith-based organizations that are engaged in bridging the technology gap in primarily low-income, urban communities. The organizations we profile provide interesting examples of the unique approach that faith-based organizations take in their attempts to successfully connect members of their community to the economic and educational opportunities offered on the Internet - and to each other. They are models for other grass roots organizations attempting to bridge the digital divide. If you are connected to or know of such an effort, please let us know and we will add it to our growing database of community-based organizations working to bridge the digital divide.
Visit the Digital Divide Network (http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/) and see some of the organizations we've profiled including:
- The Unique Learning Center** The Unique learning Center provides a five-day per week program designed to fulfill the individual needs of this African-American community's K-12 students. According to Sherry L.J. Woods, Unique Learning Center Director, many of the children in the community attend schools without libraries, or schools that have libraries, but prohibit children from checking out books. As a consequence, children are not being provided with the tools or the encouragement to read and develop broad interests. In many cases, students fail to develop adequate reading skills. Woods contends, "Many children are in classrooms where the development of critical thinking skills is not a high enough priority." More often than not, children are being trained to consume information rather than engage information.
- Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church/Family Life Center** The Family Life Center's desire to provide technology access and training to the community is a priority to the church and considered a part of its outreach ministry. The center comes to the aid of the community by housing a computer lab equipped with 5 terminals and a laser printer, which is open to the public. According to Michael Cooke, the center's director, the technology coordinator is in the process of developing technology programs and a curriculum. It is their hope to begin computer classes by mid summer.
- Washington Community Fellowship/Neighborhood Learning Center** In 1982 members of the Washington Community Fellowship began a tutoring program for neighborhood youth in the basement of the church. In 1985 a local developer provided $20,000 in seed money for renovations and computers. The purchase of four computers and an established tutoring program gave birth to the Neighborhood Learning Center (NLC). The NLC's mission is to serve as an "out of school time program providing a place where students and families can grow together." The vision is that "all students will be prepared with an academic, social and spiritual foundation."
- Jewish Vocational Service/Community Learning Service ** In Boston (MA), the Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is a nonprofit, nonsectarian organization dedicated to helping people from all walks of life overcome obstacles to employment. JVS operates 11 Community Learning Centers (CLCs) offering specialized curricula with convenient locations and hours. Over the last three years, with the help of innovative business partnerships, the centers have come to serve nearly 600 people per year. The DDN asked Wendy McPherson, Computer Learning Center Coordinator, to speak with us about the centers.