October 25, 2016

The resounding cheers could have come from fans at a sporting arena, instead they came from the more than 200 exuberant families at Self-Enhancement Inc in North Portland - many who received free laptops at an "All Access" event.

The "Oprah-esque" giveaway was the result of a 5-year partnership between Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and Comcast to help bridge the digital divide in the community. This year, Self-Enhancement Inc, a local nonprofit organization which supports at-risk urban youth and Olympic Gold Medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who serves as a spokesperson for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, joined the cause.

As part of Internet Essentials, families who meets certain qualifications are eligible for low-cost broadband, plus the option to purchase an internet-ready computer for under $150. That’s where Multnomah County, through the leadership of Commissioner Loretta Smith, steps in to help pick up the tab.

This year, $20,000 through the County, was dedicated to the program to provide laptops to community members, many of them students who need the essential tool.

“Information is power,” said Commissioner Smith while engaging the audience in a Q and A. “What is having access to broadband mean?,” she said.  “Power!” the crowd replied. “What does having a global economy mean?”  “Power.”

Commissioner Smiths shines bright at All Access event
Commissioner Smiths shines bright at "All Access" event

“The reasons I work so hard is for you is so you can have power," Smith said. "This is what community is all about, without you this would not be possible.”

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, a third of American adults do not have high-speed internet at home, and slightly more Americans were without broadband at home in 2015 than in 2013. Many rely on smartphones as an alternative and experience difficulties accessing and reading content or encounter constraints with data caps. This group is more likely to be low-income and/or minority.

The Internet Essential program provides the service for any family that lives in public housing or receives a federal rent subsidy qualifies for the low-cost Internet connection, and every student in a school where at least 40 percent of students have already qualified for Internet Essentials.

Mari Young’s household received a laptop Monday evening. The laptop is a welcomed addition for her grade school aged daughters, Trinity and Jordyn, who will use the laptop for homework. The family has never had access to internet or a laptop in their home.

“I’m grateful and appreciative of the services they’re providing us," explained Young. "I guess one word to sum it up is connectivity. We’ll have the internet connection to have the ability to do the things we want or need to do without worrying how it’s going to get done or where.”

Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee helped dole out the laptops. The Six-time Olympic Medal Winner - who works on the front lines in her community of St. Louis, Missouri to bridge the digital divide --  lauded hard work and tenacity to achieve goals despite obstacles.   

“In my community, I’ve seen first hand that’s really hard to do if you’re on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Joyner-Kersee on serving as the Internet Essentials Spokesperson. “So, I’m excited to go on the road this year with Internet Essentials and help more kids and families cross that divide and develop to their fullest potential."

The audience enthusiastically applauded the speakers.  After laptops were handed out, guests had the opportunity to meet with Comcast technicians to learn about the new equipment. Representatives from the Multnomah County Library’s technology program and Free Geek also attended the event.  

“In this day and age, the access to technology is crucial,” noted Commissioner Smith.  “There continues to be disparities in internet use between demographic groups.  That is why I am so supportive about this partnership and project because families should have access to these types of resources.  Access to technology is a priority!”

Six-time Olympic Metal Winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Mara Young and daughter Trinity share the podium with Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Audience member holds hands up in the air at All Access event at SEI in North Portland.

Commissioner Loretta Smith speaks before nearly two hundred people at All Access Event

Commissioner Smith and others partner to bridge digital divide

Comcast techs show users features on new laptops