In 2021 Fort Payne DeKalb County E-Center, in partnership with the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce and DeKalb County Economic Development Authority, launched a digital inclusion program through a grant received from Rural Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC). LISC brings local issues to State and National policy leaders. Recognizing the importance of broadband, Rural LISC grants were dispersed through an application process.
“The Rural LISC grant provided DeKalb County with an opportunity to pull our local resources together to best determine how to utilize funds awarded,” said Jennifer McCurdy, Executive Director of the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce. “It was determined that the best use of money would be equipment allocation. With the help of a Digital Navigator, Marsha Farmer, DeKalb County kicked off the digital inclusion program working alongside LISC to reduce the digital inequality in our community,” McCurdy said.
Through the grant the E-Center supported financially at risk high school students, senior citizens, homeless women and men, low-income individuals receiving supplemental utility and food assistance and job seekers.
DeKalb County Council on Aging received three desktops to assist seniors with communication with families and educational purposes. Two tablets were given to the transportation department to assist with homebound individuals to order groceries online and communicate with family members. Two desktops were placed at Marked for Life Ministries to be utilized by individuals searching for job opportunities and educational purposes. Computers were placed in an educational room at the Community Action Agency (CAA) being utilized by those receiving utility and food assistance. A laptop was also given to the CAA for their mobile unit. Counselors at the Fort Payne High School were contacted and helped create a list of students who could benefit from device assistance to further their education after high school. Twenty chromebooks were delivered to the school. Kayla Magbie, Mental Health Service Coordinator for FPCS, said, “This is a great opportunity for our students who otherwise could not afford computers, we are grateful for this partnership with Rural LISC.” Fort Payne Library was given a desktop with educational applications added, the computer is located in the main section of the library and is free to be used by the community. Other computers are available at the Fort Payne Dekalb E-Center for loaner opportunities and new business owner opportunities.
“For more than 40 years, Rural LISC has proudly worked to connect communities with resources and access to opportunities that everyone deserves,” said Rural LISC Program Officer Christa Vinson. “PCC’s Digital Inclusion pilot program supports the mission of Rural LISC by providing the physical equipment and technical assistance that this segment of the population needs in order to access services and benefit from an increasingly technical society.”
“It is our hope that this pilot program serves as a model of one approach to closing the digital divide in DeKalb County,” said Marsha Farmer, Digital Navigator. “Through the process we learned that thanks to Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, access is readily available, however affordability of services and equipment is the primary obstacle,” Farmer said. There are assistance programs through FTC to provide some financial assistance and FTC does a great job with WIFI access points throughout the County. “We plan to continue our work in partnership with local agencies in our fight to make sure every DeKalb Countians have access to devices that will assist them in furthering their opportunities,” McCurdy concluded.
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