Formed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to help supply internet services for low-income students in Jefferson County, the Connected Students Initiative will donate $35,000 in …
Formed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to help supply internet services for low-income students in Jefferson County, the Connected Students Initiative will donate $35,000 in reimbursement funds to the Jefferson County Library to help fund the library’s new Digital Equity Navigator position.
The Connected Students Initiative was originally subsidized through a grant from the Jefferson Community Foundation’s coronavirus relief funds back in 2020.
Fourteen months later, the organization has worked with more than 160 local families across all four school districts in the county to provide cable, hotspot, and satellite connections for students who were needing to conduct their studies from home.
“The role was one-third technology, one-third administrator, and one-third outreach coordinator” said initiative project leader Ben Bauermeister. “Because we were small and nimble, we were able to address the needs of the community very quickly and with a high degree of success.”
In 2021, Bauermeister applied for federal reimbursement funding for the monies spent purchasing hardware and establishing cellular accounts, receiving monetary assistance from the government to assist local students.
By the 2022 school year, many new programs were available from Jefferson County’s school districts to help connect low-income students, and the Connected Students Initiative was no longer needed.
With much of the funding restored, the initiative needed to find a good home for its remaining funds. Through discussions with county commissioners, the Jefferson Broadband Action Team, and Tamara Meredith at the Jefferson County Library District, a solution was crafted.
“We had seen the need in the community for assistance in better understanding the role of technology in our lives,” Meredith said. “We just didn’t know how we could afford a new position, and yet the match to the work that CSI had been doing was a clear connection.”
With additional support and funding from Jefferson County, the Department of Commerce, and Connect Washington Coalition, a two-year Digital Equity Navigator position was opened and filled at the Jefferson County Library.
Jamie Pena is now a local community resource, available to assist residents in understanding the various subsidies for internet connectivity, applications for low-income internet access, and general technology usage and education.
“I love the work and really enjoy working with the community and seeing the difference this assistance can make for students and adults who need some help getting across the technical divide these days” Pena said.
The Connected Students Initiative was a program of StrongerTowns, a local Jefferson County nonprofit incubator organization that also includes support for The Benji Project, Skillmation Mentoring, the Jefferson County Jobs and Trades Fair, The Production Alliance, YEA! Music, and most recently, the Community Build program.
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