“During bad times sometimes good things happen. This is one of those things.”
The Southeast Community Development Corporation (SCDC) has been working since 1994 to “flood” southeast Los Angeles with some much-needed help.
“It was a nonprofit desert in our area,” said Emma Hernandez, Interim Executive Director, SCDC. “We formed from members of local cities who were trying to bring some attention to the need in our region. It has been historically underserved as far as nonprofits go.”
Hernandez says the hard work started to pay off several years ago with more nonprofits finally taking root in the region. At the same time, a new problem was emerging in the community—the Digital Divide.
“We knew that internet access was an area where our kids were being left behind,” said Hernandez. “Our parents were also having a hard time communicating with schools and getting report cards using the internet. If a family even had the internet, they didn’t understand how to use it or have the devices to use it.”
So, over an eight-year period, SCDC opened 13 regional technology centers. The group worked with the nonprofits that were now in their communities and were willing to provide space.
“We don’t just give kids access to the internet. We teach them cool stuff about coding, robotics, and more,” Hernandez explained. “We start with kids who are tiny, just second graders, as long as they can read. We teach them through high school. Some of the kids have gone onto college and come back to teach.”
SCDC was also working to get internet access at home so local kids could do their schoolwork. Then the pandemic ground everything to a halt. Suddenly, the centers were no longer an option for families, all of whom were economically challenged, and most did not have at-home internet access.
“We’ve been working on this project, trying to get kids connected to the internet, for years,” said Hernandez. “During bad times, sometimes good things happen. This is one of those things.”
Hernandez is referring to the AT&T K-12 homework gap program, which is providing free wireless internet access and mobile Wi-Fi hotspots to at-risk students across the country. SCDC was awarded 500 hotspots to help meet the needs of the kids struggling with remote learning in southeast Los Angeles.
Connected Nation, a national nonprofit working toward expanding broadband access, adoption, and use to ALL families, is overseeing the program made possible by a $10 million funding commitment from AT&T.
It’s having an impact. There are 124 awardees in the program that spans in 26 states—representing 81 school districts and 43 nonprofits. In total, 35,000 hotspots will be given to programs that help at-risk students.
“We chose SCDC because its mission is rooted in Digital Inclusion,” said Brent Legg, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, Connected Nation. “The organization was already taking steps to help by finding ways to get computers into homes, providing technology, and helping families access low-income internet programs that could help them. We know that these hotspots will go to those who need them most across these communities in southeast LA.”
Hernandez says the hotspots will be something that helps the community long after the pandemic ends. She points to the need for a better count in the census, which impacts funding for the region, better adult digital literacy programs, and long-term needs of local students.
“Some of these kids got hotspots or computers from their schools, but there’s no way around it, they’ll have to give them back. Believe me, I’ve asked and explained how much these kids need access even when school is out,” she said. “For other kids, they didn’t even get that and are struggling academically as a result. So, we also need these hotspots to help kids take part in the summer gap program and, as they age, for work and continuing education.”
To learn more about the Southeast Community Development Corporation, head to https://www.scdcorp.org/.
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