A Technology Bootcamp Offers Security for the Summer and Skills for a Lifetime

One (of many!) odd things about me as a child was my obsession with reading the newspaper every day.  Growing up in the 80’s, newspaper subscriptions were a staple in my suburban, middle-class neighborhood, but I’m pretty sure most were being read by adults, not eight-year-olds.  Over twenty years later, and despite the decline of the newspaper industry, I remain a steadfast subscriber to my city’s local paper, The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  It was while perusing the Sunday edition recently that I read a story that stopped me in my tracks.  Focused on the upcoming summer vacation for local high school students, the article featured quote after quote from youth in the city afraid of the impending summer break, due to the rampant violence in their neighborhoods.  Teenagers so fearful of being caught in the crossfire of a neighborhood shootout that they said they’d rather be in school year round.  

"It's going to be hectic this summer," said Dre, a 16-year-old sophomore. "There's going to be a lot of killing."

"I'm hoping to stay out the way [this summer]. I don't want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I'm not trying to get shot. Especially if I'm not doing nothing."

"We can't go outside or just sit outside because you can be caught in a crossfire," said Dontasia Wall, a 16-year-old who lives not far from the school in the city's Hough neighborhood.

"People have already been dying throughout the year," she said. "When it gets hot. It'll be worse."

As a Cleveland resident and aforementioned newspaper addict, I’m sadly familiar with the issues surrounding crime in my city, but this story told in this perspective, was a new narrative for me.  I flashed back to my high school summer breaks when my biggest concern was how I’d earn enough at my part time job to buy concert tickets, while still getting plenty of time at the beach with my friends.  Meanwhile, the youth profiled in the article spoke candidly of their plans to stay indoors as much as possible, all summer.  Several said they would sleep to pass the time.  Their hopelessness translated across the page.

A few of the students mentioned being lucky enough to land summer jobs that would keep them busy, with less time to spend out on the streets.  One such jobs program highlighted in the article is the Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U.) Summer Employment Program. The popular program connects area employers with young adults ages 14-24 for 6-week summer jobs.   Last year, the program employed over 2,500 youth, with approximately 100 participants being offered permanent positions after completing their summer stints.  

This summer, my organization DigitalC, a local nonprofit focused on leveraging technology for community impact, is proud to partner with Y.O.U. as a Summer Employment Program worksite, with a twist.  Sixteen girls and young women (and I’m so proud to say our entire class is female!!) at the DigitalC office are spending eight weeks in a technology skills-building bootcamp, modeled off of DigitalC’s ReStart Program.  

The bootcamp, which launched June 20th, began with basic digital literacy (typing, using the internet, creating and emailing a resume, etc.).  Since then, the participants have moved on to Microsoft Office training, where they are taking a deeper dive into Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, and PowerPoint.  Upon completion, they’ll have the opportunity to sit for a Microsoft certification exam that earns them an industry-recognized credential certificate.  Following the Microsoft training, the girls will also be introduced to coding and programming concepts as well as networking and hardware fundamentals.  The bootcamp will wrap up in mid-August with a chance for the participants to meet and hear from women working in technology, offering advice and guidance on building a career using tech skills.

As we enter into the third week of the boot camp, summer is in full swing and Cleveland is once again filled with the vibrancy of long days of sunshine and endless fun, outdoor activities.  Meanwhile, I can’t stop thinking about those students in that Plain Dealer article, stuck inside, waiting for summer to end.  Avoiding bullets.  Wishing they had somewhere, anywhere to go, where they could feel safe.  I think about the girls I see every day in our boot camp class and wonder where they would be if they weren’t here?  Where do they go after they leave?  I wonder how I, and we as a community, can do more?  

I’m so grateful to Y.O.U. for the opportunity to offer DigitalC’s ReStart Program to the 16 young women in our group.  I see their enthusiasm and excitement to learn and I’m glad they have a space that is not just safe, but also full of opportunities for empowerment and personal growth.  But I remain worried about those left out.  Those sitting at home, waiting for the school year to start. Those to whom ‘summer break’ has a totally different meaning.  It is my hope that this one bootcamp, while impactful, is not the end of the story.  That this pilot program and others like it continue to grow, and that we as a community do more, so that fewer of our city’s youth have to spend their summer in hiding.


 

Midtown Tech Hive: Community + Technology

Midtown Tech Hive: Community + Technology

As DigitalC focused its work at the intersection of community and technology, the need for a new type of space began to emerge - a neighborhood-based space which welcomed a range of users from those seeking basic digital literacy to technology professionals. This space would welcome members to work, learn, and collaborate around community and technology.

Why a Dedicated High Speed Broadband Network to Connect the Unconnected is a Game Changer

Why a Dedicated High Speed Broadband Network to Connect the Unconnected is a Game Changer

Recently, DigitalC launched the Connect the Unconnected program. It has received strong media coverage in the Cleveland PlainDealer, WCPN (NPR)'s Sound of Ideas and in blog postings around the world. In this blog posting, I offer details on the technical design, the solution architecture, and our hopes for America's first, dedicated gigabit network designed specifically to support the unserved and underserved members of our community.

Digital Inclusion Week in Cleveland

During the week of May 8th, Cleveland participated in Digital Inclusion Week (DIW), a national initiative that seeks to promote online access and technology skill-building in efforts to reduce digital disparities in communities.

The week included roundtable discussions, city council meetings and talks surrounding the problems of digital inclusion in the city Cleveland. Among topics covered were AT&T's redlining of neighborhoods, DigitalC's Connect the Unconnected Program and statistical and analytical work regarding the issues of connection, employment, and education. 

National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) initiated Digital Inclusion Week across the country to pinpoint and bring about alliances among communities in order to address issues of connectivity equality for everyone. NDIA advocates an inclusive digital entry point if we are to give everyone a chance to enter into the digital economy. 

DigitalC hosted a ribbon cutting for its Connect The Unconnected Program at CMHA's Cedar High Rise to launch America's first high-speed broadband (as defined by the FCC) Internet access in public housing. The internet access serves as a backbone to our Restart Program, a digital skills training program for qualified Cleveland populations. 

These two programs are supported in partnership with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) as well as our many partners teaching the courses for digital literacy and skills training.

Giving Non-Techies A Chance

In Cleveland, bridging the digital divide and workforce training gets a boost

I don’t consider myself a techie. I don’t know how to code, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how my iPhone works and although I grasp the idea of data science, I’m by no means a practitioner. Despite this and the fact that my educational background is in business and public administration, I work for a technology organization, and technology and the internet are integral to both my personal and professional life. Increasingly, stories like mine are becoming the narrative of the 21 st century. Technology is permeating nearly every facet of our lives and technology know-how and skills are becoming prerequisites, not just for tech jobs but for employment across all sectors.

Meanwhile, the city of Cleveland retains its ranking as the third least connected city in the nation, behind only Detroit, Michigan and Brownsville, Texas. Approximately 50% of Cleveland residents don’t have broadband internet connectivity at home.

The Digital Divide Slows Workforce Development
That’s an astounding figure! Think of the variety of ways you use the internet every day. From your morning news, to social media, to staying connected at work, to paying your bills, taking a class online, checking in with your child’s teacher, reviewing your test results from your doctor; the list goes on and on. Meanwhile, half of Cleveland’s residents lack the access to do any of these things.

Concurrently, Cleveland employers are struggling to fill jobs locally due to a growing technology skills gap in the region. Today, many job vacancies are only posted online, where approximately half of Clevelanders don’t have ready access to view them. It’s clear a vicious cycle is occurring, one that I believe will be insurmountable if we, as a region, fail to make inclusive, equitable access to technology a priority.

A Solution: Internet Connection and Workforce Training Programs
At DigitalC, we are committed to addressing the issues of access and digital skills building for the most vulnerable members of our population. Through two pilot programs, we will begin proving the impact of home broadband access and digital literacy training for improving social and economic outcomes for Cleveland residents. Our first program, Connect the Unconnected, will bring broadband connections to approximately 800 residents of CMHA high rise communities, as well as residents of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries Men’s Shelter and students at Stepstone Academy. Recipients of the connectivity will also be provided with the opportunity to complete a basic digital literacy training course, teaching the fundamentals of computer and internet use, after which they will receive a refurbished computer to utilize at home.

Growing out of this effort at connectivity and basic training, DigitalC is also piloting ReStart, a technology skills building program aimed at creating on-ramps to the digital economy for under-employed and unemployed Clevelanders. Utilizing local assets and resources, DigitalC is collaborating with community workforce and training partners to embed digital skills training curriculum into existing workforce development programming, providing opportunities for marginalized populations to access everything from basic, foundational training in computer use, to intermediate curriculum in areas like computational thinking and Microsoft Office Suite, to certification and credentialing opportunities that can act as pathways to employment or higher education preparedness.

Together, Connect the Unconnected and ReStart are creating opportunities to chart a new course in Cleveland around connectivity and access for all. We may not all want or need to be techies, but the speed and impact of technology and innovation isn’t slowing down anytime soon. It’s up to us as a community to ensure that everyone in our region has the resources and tools to keep pace.

 

Click here to see our director of programs, Liz Forester and the CEO of CMHA, Jeffery Patterson as they discuss with Ideastream the partnership of our organizations in the creation of ReStart and Connect The Unconnected.