CMHA makes connections, bridges digital divide for residents

In terms of internet access, Cleveland is not the most well-connected city. Approximately 31 percent of residents have no online availability at home, according to statistics from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).
To better that statistic, the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) is bridging the digital divide through a federal initiative providing Clevelanders with computer training and internet access. Called Cleveland Connects, the program recently graduated 22 CMHA residents from a four-week training class covering proper mouse usage, keyboarding and email skills.
Microsoft Word and Excel program basics were also part of the course package for adults and seniors from three CMHA properties - Scranton Castle, Crestview Apartments and Manhattan Tower. Classes were taught at the Connect Your Community Center on Pearl Road, a satellite location of the Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center (ASC3).
"For a lot of people, technology is intimidating," says housing authority chief executive officer Jeffery Patterson. "This program focuses on digital literacy."
Cleveland Connects is the locally branded version of the ConnectHome pilot venture utilized in 28 communities nationwide. Residents who attended a minimum of six classes received a free desktop computer during a October 19 certification ceremony. Students can use their new skills to apply for employment, pay bills or tackle any number of other issues one faces in a technology-based society.

"Having a computer at home means they can compete on a level playing field," says  Patterson. "Just having email is going to put them in a position for jobs or school."
CMHA officials are working with the city of Cleveland on getting newly connected learners free or low-cost broadband access. When not coaching up the adult population on computer use, Cleveland Connects makes available mobile WiFi devices to K-12 Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) students.
Cleveland's housing group owns more than 4,600 family units, with over 50 percent of those units having at least one child. A personal computer serves as a writing tool for young people and a communication device for their parents.
"People with kids can communicate with teachers over email, or be able to read a syllabus," Patterson says. "Having access to the internet opens so many doors."
Less than half of the country's poorest families have a wired Internet subscription at home, and more than 60 million Americans lack basic digital literacy, according to the Federal Communications Commission. ConnectHome aims to offer affordable online access to more low-income Cleveland families, bringing them technological awareness and increased opportunity in our online world. 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.