Fifteen Broome County residents were loaned fully functional computers as a part of the Bridging the Digital Divide Project (BDDP).
Each person received all necessary components including monitors, engines, keyboards and mice at an event held Friday at the Broome County Urban League.
The project began in 2008 through the collaboration of Binghamton University’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), SUNY Broome Community College, AmeriCorps VISTA and New York Campus Compact. The groups wanted to provide victims of underemployment and unemployment, those who have been incarcerated, immigrants and refugees, impoverished youth and the elderly with computer literacy education and refurbished computer loans.
The program has 262 volunteers, including students from both BU and BCC, who work together with seven faculty members as well as four professional staff members. The program also has 12 charity partners in the Southern Tier.
BDDP was instituted to combat the issue of digital divide — the gap between those who have access to online and technological advances and those who don’t. A study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project reports that 15 percent of American adults do not use the Internet at all, and 9 percent use the Internet, but not at home.
Allison Alden, the director of the CCE, explained the problem of digital divide in the Broome County area.
“We have many residents in our community who have neither the resources nor knowledge to use computers,” Alden said. “These computers help them with job searches, academic study, connecting with family and friends, et cetera.”
The computer loan is available to underprivileged Broome County community members who have completed computer literacy courses either through BDDP itself or through the SUNY ATTAIN Lab, a partner of the Broome County Urban League.
Used computers are donated to BDDP by Geodis Supply Chain Optimisation. They are then refurbished by BDDP student volunteers through the guidance of Jack Rappaport, a community volunteer.
After four years of operation, the program has lent 137 computers to community members, collected and recycled or refurbished 19,000 pounds of electronics. This has all been made possible through 8,024 hours of service.
The program has continued to grow steadily since its introduction in 2009 and is projected to continue to improve as it works to bridge the gap of computer illiteracy in the Broome County area.
Alden said that she was impressed with the work of BDDP.
“The Bridging the Digital Divide Program recruits student volunteers to teach area residents basic computer skills,” Alden said. “Other volunteers refurbish used computers, then we loan these computers to those who have completed the training. It is a really worthwhile program.”
Participants in the program who received computers, such as Margaret Gildea, were also happy with what BDDP has accomplished.
“Over six months ago, I didn’t even know how to use a mouse,” Gildea said. “I was completely computer illiterate, so I’ve gone all the way from that because of these wonderful instructors.”