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The COVID pandemic has shed light on a technological divide that has, in part, prevented segments of the U.S. population from accessing opportunities. 

That’s why organizations across the country, with the financial backing of Centri Tech Foundation, will take the mantle in addressing this issue over the next few months.  

In the District, a group of young people will spend the summer gaining the tools needed to teach elders at Martha’s Table how to navigate the internet and tend to daily tasks on digital platforms. These Gen-Zers, who are affiliates of Urban Alliance, will acquire their knowledge from Byte Back, a well-regarded adult tech education program. 

“We’re identifying 15 caretakers and 15 young people between 10 and 18 years old who will participate in the pilot program,” said Joe Paul, CEO of Byte Back, as he explained the 360 Digital Navigators Program, a previous collaboration between Byte Back, Urban Alliance and Martha’s Table.

“We’ll train the youth and send them off to support Martha’s Table,” Paul said. “They’re learning how to teach seniors how to access banking and telehealth services and recognize misinformation and scams. We’re getting seniors to participate in the digital economy.” 

Though people over the age of 65 remain less likely to use the internet than their younger counterparts, that gap has been narrowing over the last few years with elders’ embrace of mobile apps. During the pandemic, elders used video conferencing apps to tend to their health needs and maintain contact with loved ones. Some elders even established a social media presence to join online communities centered on their interests. 

All the while, nonprofits like Centri Tech Foundation have focused on increasing digital literacy among working-age people and helping elders better access online resources. In carrying out this mission,  Centri Tech Foundation spent more than a year cultivating relationships with people and organizations dedicated to helping communities become more digitally advanced.  

In its first year, the nonprofit’s Digital Integrators Pilot Program has awarded more than $195,000 in innovation grants to digital equity organizations in the District, Boston, Detroit, New York and Philadelphia. 

“If it’s in your mission to connect people to greater economic opportunities, you can’t do it without addressing the reality of digital equity and skills,” said Marta Urquilla, president of Centri Tech Foundation. 

“We spent a lot of time looking for models we can learn from and they were hard to find so we’re glad that these organizations wanted to pilot something never done before,” Urquilla said. 

“We hope the lessons coming out of this will be useful to people across the country trying to solve the issue of digital equity.” 

Martha’s Table, located at The Commons in Southeast, facilitates a social club for seniors who want to maintain a fitness regimen. Other programs geared toward community members focus on healthy food access and developing familial bonds. In this collaboration with Byte Back and Urban Alliance, seniors at Martha’s Table will have a chance to impart words of wisdom on the youth teaching them how to navigate online services. 

Since the mid-1990s, Urban Alliance’s offerings for high school seniors in the D.C. metropolitan area have included paid internships with skills training, one-on-one mentoring, and college and career-planning assistance.  The nonprofit has fulfilled its obligation in partnership with local banks and corporations, to the benefit of 23,000 young people. 

For Urban Alliance Greater DC Executive Director Mireille Lopez-Humes, the partnership and Centri Tech Foundation’s infusion of funds also provides an opportunity for young people to develop in their digital literacy and professional leadership while forging bonds with elders in their community who are reservoirs of knowledge. 

Lopez-Humes described the latter point as pivotal in establishing an understanding between various generations of Ward 8 residents.

“We’re trying to fight systemic racism and ensure that young people have equitable access to digital literacy skills, workforce experience and professional networks,” Lopez- Humes said. 

“At times, there’s a gap in understanding about what the previous generation can bring to the youth [and] there are misconceptions about young people. This opportunity can bring together those generations.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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