Oak Hill Collaborative Seeks to Expand Digital Inclusion

By Elizabeth Lehman

Digital Inclusion Week 2018 takes place May 7 to May 11 and Oak Hill Collaborative is participating. Digital inclusion has been part of the nonprofit’s goal for the area for about six months to a year.

Pat Kerrigan, executive director of Oak Hill Collaborative, said in developing the strategic plan, the organization came together as a board, along with staff, volunteers and those who were interested within the community.

“We came to the conclusion that this would be the best way for us to do what we can for the Mahoning Valley,” Kerrigan said. “It was at least six months ago that we started to do it, but there really is so much to it, including getting funding to get it done.”

Between receiving a $20,000 grant from the Youngstown Foundation, and smaller grants from other funders, Oak Hill Collaborative has been working on making progress on the initiative.

Kerrigan said the motivation for championing digital inclusion is due to a real need in the community, which is currently not being fully supported by any other organizations. He said there are smaller initiatives, but nothing coordinated that covers the full range of digital inclusion.

“Teaching people how to use their computers all the way to trying to get literally millions of dollars for access and better broadband and fiber and all those things … So, I think it’s a comprehensive approach …” Kerrigan said. “It’s a way we can make a more significant impact on the community from low- to middle-income people all the way to businesses and everything in between.”

Sara Daugherty is with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments and has been working with Oak Hill Collaborative and others on this project. She said part of the goal is to spread awareness to resources that already exist and to see what people want and need.

“There’s actually some really great resources in the community. Every week there are basic training workshops, and these take place through SCOPE [Senior Citizens Opportunity for Personal Endeavor] as well as the Austintown Senior Center and the Girard Multi-Generational Center,” Daugherty said.

She said Library of Mahoning County and the Warren Library have weekly events. There will also be more events at the new Michael Kusalaba Library, located on Mahoning Avenue. She said a representative from AT&T will be giving a presentation to seniors about getting connected, too.

“We are hoping to build from these few, about a dozen, activities, to see where the interest is and then overall hopefully that will lead to more and better programming,” she said.

Daughtery said a recent study showed how many homes in the county are not connected to the internet.

“Connect Ohio recently prepared a study for Youngstown and Mahoning County that found that although 97 percent of households have access to service, only 30 percent subscribe. Affordability and relevancy are the main reasons,” Daughtery said.

She said a program called Lifeline is available for families who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which offers 15 megabytes of service for $10 a month.

Daugherty also said the local libraries are an important partner in digital inclusion, not just during Digital Inclusion Week, but all year.

Janet Loew, communications, public relations and marketing director at the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, said the library provides a range of digital services.

She said all library locations offer free, high-speed Internet on public access computers.

“Also, all of our locations offer free Wi-Fi access for people to use on their own laptops, smartphones, tablets and other devices. Several of our libraries have laptop loans, where laptops can be checked out on a library card for use within the branch for a limited time. We also have mobile hotspots available for loan to library cardholders,” Loew said.

Loew said the Kusalaba Library has a heavy focus on technology in addition to traditional library services.
“The Michael Kusalaba Branch has a unique MakerSpace, which features equipment available for use by the pubic … This is currently the only MakerSpace in the PLYMC library system,” Loew said.

For more information on activities during Digital Inclusion Week or any other time, email Pat Kerrigan at [email protected] or visit Oak Hill Collaborative’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/OakHillCollaborative/.