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Bridging the Digital Divide in OR

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Monday, July 19, 2021   

TILLAMOOK, Ore. -- Like other infrastructure needs, the widening gap in internet access is affecting people across the country.

In the spirit of New Deal initiatives during the Great Depression, the nonprofit Lead for America has started the American Connection Corps. In 2021, the program is training fellows in 12 states, including Oregon.

Benya Kraus, co-founder of Lead for America and director of the American Connection Corps, said in both Tillamook and Morrow counties, where the Oregon fellows will serve, there is a need for infrastructure in hard-to-reach places, and also reaching out to people.

"We're, from the get-go, thinking about digital inclusion and literacy and making sure that it's not just about the build-out," Kraus explained. "It's actually about making sure that people know how to use it and have access to the devices and the costs that would allow them to be able to participate in the digital economy."

To date, the American Connection Corps has placed more than 100 fellows in 26 states. Oregon ranks 34th in the nation in access to broadband, according to the website BroadbandNow.

Kraus noted one important component of the fellowship is choosing people in their hometowns or who are moving back to their hometowns. She added the program's training focuses on solving challenges and building relationships.

"There's a lot of purpose and personal meaning that is fulfilled when you live your life in deep relationship to your place, to people, to the commitments to those people and places," Kraus contended.

With people stuck at home during the pandemic, the digital divide was in stark relief. However, Kraus emphasized underserved families across the country have known and lived with the issue for a long time.

"But I do think COVID has brought on this greater urgency now to get creative between public and private partnerships and nonprofit partners like us, too," Kraus remarked. "How can we team up together to solve one of the most pressing challenges our country is facing?"


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