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IT Ambassador Program to Narrow the Digital Divide


RHA's Annie Graham works with computer recipient; Example of a computer distributed to residents; Residents received computers in Feb. 2020, after 10-week digital literacy training 

ROXBORO--From Feb. 2020 to present, Roxboro Housing Authority (RHA) has been on a mission to narrow the digital divide among low- and very-low income families in Person Co.

After accomplishing several goals with connecting residents through end user equipment distribution and free WI-FI, RHA is now planning to start an IT Ambassador Program.  Starting in Spring 2022, this program will allow residents to get paid to learn information technology at an advanced level. After training from a seasoned IT professional, participants will be compensated to provide outreach support in their respective communities and teach fellow residents how to navigate RHA-provided technology and connectivity technology.

"The IT Ambassador Program will allow persons from low-income households to learn 21st century job skills while earning income toward future goals toward self sufficiency," said Felts Lewis, RHA executive director.  "This new program will impact generations with the granddaughter or daughter using newly acquired IT skills to help the grandmother or mother with turning on a device, connecting to the internet and becoming engaged in today's high-tech society--all within a public housing unit here in Roxboro, N.C.  With all that we have accomplished with digital inclusion, our mission has changed to close the digital divide."

To recap how RHA arrived at this point during its digital inclusion journey:

RHA partnered with Piedmont Community College to teach elderly residents about basic computing. The program was expanded to serve the elderly and adult head of households.  In Feb. 2020 at the end of the 10-week training program, 15 participants earned a free laptop.

RHA spent over $13,000 in CARES Act funds to purchase 75 laptops and all-in-one computers for all of its school-aged students. 

Computer distribution efforts started in July 2020.  Students in higher grade levels received laptops. Currently, elementary and middle school students and adults are receiving all-in-one computers.

In July 2020, the agency procured and signed a five-year contract with Charter Communications d/b/a Spectrum to build and install high-speed broadband internet service for all residents at each of the four RHA-owned apartment communities. This includes having a fiber optic backbone for adequate streaming of videos, Zoom, etc. 

Installation started in late Aug. 2020 and went live in the Spring 2021.  As of Jan. 2022, all four communities obtained free Wi-Fi. 

Ms. Annie Graham, Resident Opportunities Self-Sufficiency (ROSS) Coordinator, leads this effort to help bridge the digital divide within underserved communities in Person County.

RHA is one of over 15 agencies in the Southeastern region that partners with ConnectHomeUSA and EveryoneOn. Both non-profit entities receive resources from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to get as many public housing residents as possible online with a device of their own and participating in an ever-growing digital society.

Graham was recently a presenter during a ConnectHomesUSA webinar, sharing RHA's digital inclusion plans and activities to public housing authorities (PHAs) throughout the country. PHAs from as far as Phoenix, Arizona are now contacting Roxboro Housing Authority about its digital inclusion efforts.

Graham shared that RHA continues to explore public and private partnerships to expand its digital connection program for more public housing residents.

Roxboro Savings Bank, one of RHA's Digital Inclusion Community Partners, donated $12,500 toward the agency's efforts to help close the technology gap among low-income families.

For more information about RHA's Digital Inclusion Initiative, call (336) 599-8616. Check out more pictures in the Gallery.