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Using digital literacy to do more good

How the Urban League of West Michigan plans to use Connected Nation’s Digital Literacy and Learning workshops to bring opportunity to the Grand Rapids community

Grand Rapids, Michigan (Nov. 1, 2022) - A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending some Digital Literacy and Learning workshops in Grand Rapids, Michigan, led by Connected Nation (CN) in partnership with AT&T. The CN team was invited to provide training to the Urban League of West Michigan on three topics: Computer Basics, Internet Basics and Email Basics. The CN staff spent two full days training more than a dozen employees.

The Urban League of West Michigan is part of a larger, national organization whose mission is to empower African Americans and other minorities to achieve economic self-reliance, parity, and civil rights. The West Michigan office is located right in the heart of Grand Rapids. During my visit, I had the opportunity to spend time with the Urban League staff. I learned about the work they do and the challenges they face every day. More than any of that, I learned how they hope to influence the community of Grand Rapids in a positive way.

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Computer basics training led by Heather Gate, Executive Vice President of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation

Knowledge is power

Steve Jackson, Program Manager for the Urban League of West Michigan, invited Connected Nation to bring our workshops to his team with a bigger plan in mind. Initially, the CN team was worried the classes would not be the right fit for the staff because their digital literacy is already high — they use computers every day as part their jobs. However, Steve’s intent was for his employees to receive the training themselves so they could then go out and train individuals in their community.

In Grand Rapids, and many urban locations throughout the United States, the need for digital literacy is growing. The Urban League leads community-based programs based around four pillars: education, health, housing, and employment. Each program involves some level of computer work. Digital literacy is an essential skill to apply for housing or jobs, access telehealth or do online training.

The Urban League’s Workforce Development team spoke with us about the challenges they face as they help people find meaningful employment, apply for jobs, and even prepare for video interviews. Many of us assume that everyone knows how to do these things, but that is not always the case.

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Urban League of West Michigan Workforce Development team with CN's Tammy Spring, Dan Manning and Tom Stephenson

The Workforce Development team was particularly excited to attend CN’s training because they wanted to learn as much as possible in order to bring more opportunities to their community. On our first day there, we asked the team what they were looking forward to learning. William Burress had the perfect response: “Sometimes, you need to revisit the basics in order to advance.”

We couldn’t agree more.

The Digital Literacy and Learning program is for everyone. To those who are in the dark when it comes to technology, it provides an excellent starting point. And for those, like myself, who already feel they know so much, it offers something new. In the two days that I sat in the workshops, I learned something in every single class.

Doing more good

It was apparent that the workshops led by CN’s Heather Gate, Dan Manning, Tammy Spring, and Melissa Anderson were not only valued by the participants, but needed in the Grand Rapids community overall. The Urban League of West Michigan staffers walked away from the training with increased digital skills. They were highly engaged, asked lots of questions, and were eager to apply what they learned to their jobs.

When I asked Steve how he felt the training went, he responded, “My belief is that the digital learning training benefited the team and the community by reinforcing basic computer learning skills. If I was a betting man, I would have told you that our 20-somethings would outshine our older community members the day before the training. I realized that was not true; age has nothing to do with it. If you are open to learning, you will receive and build upon all that the digital learning program has to offer. You guys did a great job; you made it enjoyable.”

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Internet basics hybrid course led by Melissa Anderson and Tammy Spring of Connected Nation

While CN taught the Urban League staff so much, I walked away feeling as though they taught me even more. Prior to my trip to Grand Rapids, I had not spent much time in urban communities. Admittedly, I grew up in the suburbs of Western Pennsylvania. My home is surrounded by farms, and my kids can walk around our neighborhood after dark without much concern.

It was eye-opening to hear the Urban League staff talk about how they walk around nearby neighborhoods until 10 p.m., helping kids and teens who may be in trouble. They spoke with such passion and heart for their community. They want nothing more than to bring opportunities to Grand Rapids residents, and to make it safer for youth.

To me, the Urban League staff is a reminder that this world is filled with more good people than bad, and that most people truly want to make the world a better place.

CN was proud to bring our Digital Literacy and Learning workshops to Grand Rapids. Urban League staff are now able to pass on their knowledge and empower their community to grow their digital skills.

I believe Dr. Seuss said it best: “The more that you read, the more things you will know, the more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Grand Rapids is now even more equipped to bridge the Digital Divide, one class at a time.

Pino Ashley White Background

About the Author: Ashley Pino is the Connected Nation Marketing Communications Specialist. She is responsible for communications and marketing functions that broadly publicize Connected Nation (CN)’s mission, educate stakeholders on Digital Divide issues, and lead to new programs and projects that expand CN’s social impact.