Seattle’s ConnectHome: Connecting families to the internet

NewHolly families receiving refurbished laptops through Seattle ConnectHome

In July 2015, Seattle was selected by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a pilot site for President Obama’s ConnectHome program.  The major goal of ConnectHome was to connect 35% of families with children K-12 living public housing with home connectivity to the internet.   The City of Seattle came together with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) to meet this charge as it integrated well with digital equity efforts currently underway.  SHA identified 1000 households in five family communities who could potentially benefit through this program.

Seattle ConnectHome came together and along with a grant from Google, provided families newly connected to home internet with up to 3 years of free connectivity.  The City of Seattle Information Technology Department committed 100 refurbished laptops from InterConnection to be distributed to these newly connected families.  So far, 77 families have taken advantage of this free connectivity and 100 have have received laptops.  In this first year, 57.4% of families have been identified as currently connected to home internet, surpassing HUD’s 35% goal by 224 households.  Additionally, over 600 youth and adults living in these communities have accessed technology skills training through local and national partners such as, Boys and Girls Club Smilow Rainier Vista Center, Big Brained Superheroes, Neighborhood House, Geek Squad Academy, GitHub, EveryoneOn and many more.

As we look to our second year of ConnectHome, 100 laptops are again committed through the City of Seattle IT Department, 80 free connections, 250 table devices and 15 laptops for youth academic programs are being made available through SHA’s Google grant funds.  Seattle ConnectHome wouldn’t be successful without these partnerships and the continued commitment and support of local and national technology skills training providers.  For more information about Seattle ConnectHome and how you can be a partner, please contact Vicky Yuki at vicky.yuki@seattle.gov.

Lake City organization is a quick study in teaching digital literacy to adults

Story by Damme Getachew

For hundreds of adults in the Seattle area looking to expand their education, Literacy Source is a crucial first step.

At their Learning Center in Lake City, students experience a broad range of classes intended to build their language and literacy skills.

As Literacy Source Executive Director Lynn Livesley explains, the organization’s strength is not only in their small class sizes — with a maximum of 15 students per class — but also in the way they keep their content accessible.

“Adults walk with their feet,” she says, “they don’t have to be here, they choose to be…the classes have to be relevant and respectful of their time.”

Throughout a typical week, Literacy Source offers adult basic education (ABE), English as a Second Language (ESL), GED prep, math, citizenship test prep, and their new Online learning courses (made possible through a City of Seattle Technology Matching Fund grant) at convenient times.

About 120 active volunteers facilitate in the classroom or work one-on-one with students every day. Volunteer tutor Wendy Mullen meets with her student for 90 minutes, twice per week.

Classes and tutoring revolve around each student’s individual goals. Each student is supported by an assigned instructional advisor, who takes care to understand why learners are there and where they want to go. They check-in with their students across six-week terms. No two classes are alike because they are tailored to a cohort’s needs and ambitions.

Tess Griswold, an ABE instructional advisor says this is exactly why they are successful — a culturally responsive curriculum and a classroom built around mutually agreed upon rules is the norm.

“It’s not prescribed, it’s not scripted, it’s something that really comes from them and where they are at,” she says. “We intentionally meet them at their level.”

Yumiko, a student in a level four ESL class, moved to Seattle from California where she worked as a dental assistant at a Japanese-speaking facility. She’s at Literacy Source because she wants to improve her English-speaking skills so that she can eventually work as a dental assistant anywhere. But for now, learning how to use a computer is helping her do better at her current job.

“Because of our size and the fact we are not within a big institutional structure, we can be very nimble, flexible, and intentional about creating opportunities for the people we are working with,” Livesley explains.

In 21st century America, this includes increasing digital literacy for low-income adults.

Literacy Source has created a center-wide Digital Literacy curriculum which promotes technology use in some form in every single class, both in their Learning Center and in off-site programming. Focus areas include basic internet functionality, email, Google Docs, Google Maps, and Canvas (a learning management system used in higher education).

Specific objectives are outlined across their Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer terms with increasing complexity as time goes on.

“The majority of our students want to know how to use a computer,” says Instructional Director Cat Howell, “For some, it is the first time they’ve even touched one, so we start from the beginning.”

Workforce Coordinator and Instructional Advisor Janet Arbogast says that a lot of assumptions are often made when it comes to instructing adults about digital literacy.

“Jobs that have previously been non-technological are starting to transition,” she explains. As tasks become more automated, workers are expected to catch on to new programs and databases quickly.

But as Arbogast points out, it can be very difficult if digital training is not done in the right way. That’s why Literacy Source steps in to provide in-depth pre-training before new systems go live, and partners with other organizations to host classes on-site.  Recently, they conducted a 10-week long training at NW Hospital.

“Showing workers something once and assuming they will get it just doesn’t work,” Arbogast continues. “As NW Hospital workers got the hang of the new program, they were able to phase out of the class.”

The unique strategies used by Literacy Source are meant to ensure that digital literacy continues long after students exit the classroom, in ways that both improve job performance and will fundamentally change a student’s life.

“Change happens with education,” Livesley affirms. “Education is the starting point for any individual.”

In 2016 the City of Seattle awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds (TMF). This funding will assist more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Asian senior healthcare organization uses technology to fight social isolation of seniors

Story by Joy Okot-Okidi

Founded in the 1980s as the first Chinese nursing home operated by the Chinese community in the nation,  Kin On now serves over 500 Asian seniors in the Greater Seattle area.

Asian cultures hold a tradition for families to care for their own, according to Kin On’s website, and caregivers and staff follow a holistic approach to care for their residents.

Their mission is to “support the elderly and adults in the greater Seattle Asian community by offering a comprehensive range of health, social and educational services sensitive to their cultural, linguistic and dietary needs.”

Since opening, Kin On has gone on to win several awards including an honor from the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation, declaring Kin On Health Care an “Asian-American Pioneer in Healthcare.”

In October 2016, the facility opened a new community center as part of their Healthy Living Program, focused on the physical, mental and social aspects of health for adults over 50. Classes offered include EnhanceFitness®, Zumba®, ballroom and line dance, arts and crafts, technology, evidence-based health education, and more.

At the heart of the Healthy Living Program is the Kin On Smartlab, which was initiated with the City of Seattle Technology Matching Fund.  The goal of the Kin On SmartLab was to “improve social isolation, to increase interaction through email, technology literacy and access to government resources online,” said Jessica Wong who was the main program coordinator from 2015-2016.

Wong said that Kin On serves many immigrants, mostly from China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. She says social isolation is a major problem, so the committee proposed the idea of a “SmartLab” to combat this, speaking to the educational, mental and social components of the Healthy Living Program.

The organization previously applied for the grant from the Technology Matching Fund, and after not being chosen, they applied feedback and received the grant the following year. The SmartLab operates in the 2,600 square foot community center and the program officially began in April of 2016, featuring “all-in-one computers” with a built-in monitor and speakers, allowing for easy take-down and set up, along with a projector allowing students to see skills being taught on a larger screen.

Its first set of classes included “Computers Made Easy,” teaching students basic fundamentals of using a computer. From April to July 2016, four, two-hour classes were taught once a month on select Saturdays by young professionals in the technology field. About 10 volunteers are present for each class to assist the students. There are also two open lab tutors who give one-on-one lessons twice a week.

The SmartLab is open to the community and seniors aged 50+ can sign up by phone, in-person, or with help from a family member or friend, through an online application which is offered in English and Chinese.

Seniors who sign up are encouraged to come in and ask questions about smartphones and tablets and computers. One former nurse from Kin On, Eliane Dao, has transitioned into becoming a regular student in the SmartLab. “It has been about three months and I am very happy that I have found a great teacher,” she explained, “He will teach you anything you ask.”

“We hope to grow to serve more people and also offer a larger variety of classes,” Wong said of Kin On’s goals for the future of the technology program. “For this coming year, we have improved our methods and how we teach by simplifying the classes with more repetition and practice time.” The 2017 classes schedule is now available online.

The SmartLab will continue to push towards its three main goals: combatting social isolation through online access to social media and communication platforms, improving technology literacy, and increasing access to health and government resources online.

For more information or questions, please contact Anne Nguyen who oversees Kin On’s Healthy Living Program at 206-556-2237 or healthyliving@kinon.org.

 

In 2016 the City of Seattle awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds (TMF). This funding will assist more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Seattle’s Millionair Club Charity is a one-stop transition from the streets to a job

Story by Esmy Jimenez

“Martin G. Johanson wanted everyone to feel like a millionaire whether they had a nickel in their pocket or nothing at all,” Executive Director Jim Miller tells me.

In his quest to make this vision a reality, Seattle’s Millionair Club Charity (MCC) was formed in 1921. A local businessman, Johanson watched as his city reeled from the economic devastation of WWI leaving many unemployed. While some charities were providing hot meals, Johanson believed the key to breaking the cycle and providing people with the agency to lead a dignified life was the privilege of a well earned paycheck.

“That’s why we’re a job-first organization,” Miller adds. While the organization couples job opportunities with housing support, the Millionair Club is known for having provided over 800 workers this year to over 1000 businesses who hired people who’ve experienced homelessness or are currently experiencing homelessness. For many that’s the first time someone’s offered them a tangible solution.

Currently the organization focuses on providing people with Food Handler’s Cards and MAST (WA State’s Mandatory Alcohol Server Training) licensing. Many people often lack the $10-$15 cost of a certification and that alone can be the barrier that keeps them from accessing a job. What’s more is that even if the money was available and prioritized, an online course means access to a computer is a necessity.

Herein lies the beauty of The Millionair Club. It’s a thoughtfully assessed system that foresees solutions to barriers that may be holding their clients back. It’s that kind of foresight that prompted the organization to develop a small, eight-station computer lab devoted to job support. But they didn’t stop there.

As the need grew and the positive effects rippled out, the social entreprise knew they had to keep up with the demand from their clients. With support from the City of Seattle Technology Matching Fund through a $21,800 grant, The Millionair Club developed their small computer lab into a Workforce Development site equipped with 32 workstations. Now folks can come in to the same place where they can shower, do laundry, store their belongings, eat a hot meal, pass their food handler’s certification test, and even get work clothes for employment the very same day.

“We love it when people say ‘I came in for lunch, I came out with a job!’” says Christine Rylko, Director of Communications at The Millionair Club. What’s more is that the organization also provides transportation to and from work and a completely free vision clinic for folks who need glasses (much needed for job readiness!) Coupled with housing opportunities, free showers and laundry, the place is a one-stop shop for people to get back on their feet.

This year alone this intricate system has helped 154 people transition to full time permanent jobs.

With over 4,500 people without a home identified during this year’s One Night Count and 6,000 more in King County shelters, that kind of program is revolutionary and indeed much-needed.

“I want to pass that on to anyone out there who needs help to work. The MCC is where it’s at for good clothing and work.  In fact, I haven’t heard of any organization out there that’s like them.  Everyone should come to the MCC for help because it’s #1,” says Sam, a client who experienced both the pains of homelessness and the joy of finding his way back to a secure home with the help of The Millionair Club.

With stories like this, the organization’s name is no misnomer. They are championing the way for Seattle’s homeless population to feel like millionaires themselves.

In 2016 the City of Seattle awarded 10 community organizations a total of $320,000 in Technology Matching Funds (TMF). This funding will assist more than 2,500 residents in historically underserved or underrepresented communities who lack the necessary technology access and essential digital skills to thrive in the 21st century.

Expanded wi-fi now available at 26 Seattle Community Centers

The City of Seattle has completed upgrading public wi-fi equipment at 26 Seattle Parks and Recreation Community Centers, and it’s already helping thousands of users. The increased access points were installed as part of the City’s Digital Equity Action Plan with support from Google. The City has seen wi-fi usage more than double in the past year with this addition of more and higher quality access points. Over 16,000 devices (16,166) connected in November, up from 7441 in November, 2015. The public wi-fi spots are especially valuable for low-income families who have no internet at home or are on limited data plans, and the homeless, who rely on wi-fi as a lifeline to look for work, complete homework, access health information, or stay in touch with family.

The community center upgrade project also enhanced capacity for digital literacy programming by replacing 49 computers in Community Center technology labs that provide public access and training at Delridge, Rainier, Rainier Beach, South Park and Yesler.

These improvements help ensure digital equity and opportunity in lower income neighborhoods. The robust upgrade expanded coverage so that users can connect in lobbies as well as in meeting and activity rooms at the community centers. The wi-fi expansion has been a classic case of If you build it, they will come. User rates have skyrocketed at several of the sites.  Danisha, a parent at Rainier Beach Community Center reports: “Not only do I get to watch my kids play basketball at the gym, I can now get online for social networking and check my work email.”

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of participants that come into the center just to use the wi-fi which, in turn, leads to conversations about what’s offered at the Jefferson Community Center,” said Doreen Deaver, Recreation Coordinator at the Jefferson Community Center.  “Overall, it has been very good for interest in our programs.”

Installation of the expanded service was led by Seattle Information Technology, the Associated Recreation Council, and Seattle Parks and Recreation. The system is using Cisco Meraki devices, with internet service currently provided in most sites by Comcast and by Wave Broadband in their service area. The expanded wi-fi provides another opportunity for users to connect to Seattle.gov, use the wi-fi for civic participation, or get online to sign up for programs at the Community Centers.  For those without devices, the community centers also offer public internet kiosk computers.