Uniting Resources to Bridge the Digital Divide

Posted August 25, 2020

Raise your metaphorical hand if you’ve joked about how you can’t imagine how you lived your daily life before the internet. Us too. Facebook, Google Maps, FaceTime, Zoom – all are crucial parts of staying connected, especially during social distancing. But rarely do we think about the reality of doing life without the internet. What would you do if you didn’t have internet access but needed to find a nearby food pantry, apply for aid because of job loss from the coronavirus, or attend a telehealth doctor appointment because your doctor’s office was closed?

The impact of the coronavirus has spotlighted how lack of internet access – aka the “Digital Divide” – is a significant barrier to individuals living healthy lives and achieving their full potentials. Here’s what you need to know about the Digital Divide, how community partners are uniting resources to address these barriers to success, and ways you can help.

See the Need: How the “Digital Divide” Creates Barriers to Success

The conversation about the Digital Divide started as our community realized the magnitude of inequity in access to education when Palm Beach County schools quickly transitioned to distance learning due to the coronavirus.

92,000 households in Palm Beach County do not have internet access, and 8,010 households do not have technology devices, such as personal computers or tablets, for students to continue learning at home.

This quickly turned into a greater dialogue, broader than the impact on education. Lack of internet access impacts people’s abilities to access mental and physical health care while doctor’s offices are closed, use the Food Finder Map to locate pantries to help put food on the table, apply for government programs and aid online while being laid off or furloughed, or allow at-risk youth to continue to meet with their mentor virtually.

According to the United Way ALICE Report, 46% of Palm Beach County households are struggling to make ends meet. Before the pandemic, these families were one lost paycheck away from financial hardship. And now, many of these households have been severely impacted by loss of income due to the coronavirus. These hardworking families are having to make difficult choices between paying for internet access, putting food on the table, or keeping the lights on.

As our lives are permanently changed by COVID-19 and the way we access basic needs, the Digital Divide is a very real threat to the long-term success of our community. Fortunately, Palm Beach County is home to some of the most compassionate and innovative individuals, businesses, nonprofits, funders, school districts, and government leaders who are already taking on this challenge.

Feel Connected to Solutions: How United Way and Partners are Collaborating for Impact

United Way of Palm Beach County’s strength is in uniting community resources to meet emerging needs. We are actively partnering with local organizations including Quantum Foundation, The School District of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach County Government, and many others to connect our community to basic needs through internet access.

United Way of Palm Beach County has been a leader in this initiative by:

  • Providing funding to purchase hot spots for 700 students in The Glades.
  • Creating the Palm Beach County Food Finder Map to help families locate free food and hot meals near them.
  • Supporting 50+ mentor programs and 4,500 mentor matches with best practices for effective virtual mentorship.

Our community partners are also collaborating on new solutions:

  • Quantum Foundation is implementing pilot programs in The Glades, Riviera Beach, and Lake Worth Beach that will increase equitable technology and internet access, ensure digital literacy and empowerment, and provide youth with enrichment and engagement activities.
  • The Palm Beach County Library system extended its WiFi reach to all of its branch parking lots to support people who do not have internet available at home, but need to access the internet and printers, yet do not feel comfortable being inside for long periods of time due to COVID-19.
  • Palm Beach County government, the School District, municipalities, business and philanthropic community are working together to light up The Glades with fiber optic wires that will bring high speed internet access to households who formerly did not have it. After completion, other communities with high percentages of lack of internet coverage will also gain access to free WiFi.

 Be the Heart of Palm Beach County: How You Can Help

United Way and our partners are hard at work to ensure that everyone can have access to a quality education, enough to eat, medical care, a place to sleep, and a caring mentor. But the work is not done and the need is greater than ever. We invite you to take the next step to learn more and get connected to these solutions. Check out three ways you can Be the Heart of Palm Beach County today.

  1. Watch the WPBF Education Special on the Digital Divide. You’ll hear from United Way of Palm Beach County’s Mentor Center team and other local community partners on how important it is for our youth to stay connected to a caring adult and educational resources during this time.
  2. Become a Mentor. With more than 1,000 youth on a waitlist to be matched to a mentor, the time is now to make a difference and change a youth’s life. Virtual mentorship options are available.
  3. Donate to United Way of Palm Beach County to help us continue this important work. We can’t do what we do without the support of our generous community and people just like you. Join us as we continue to fight for everyone in Palm Beach County to have access to basic needs. (You can even check out our membership groups to get more involved in United Way!).

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