Most of the older residents of Hudson Gardens, a housing complex in Jersey City, New Jersey, are digitally disconnected. So, when the Jersey City Housing Authority received a 2022 AARP Community Challenge grant to address this digital divide, just getting the word out to the residents was a challenge.
“Digital inequities significantly impeded our ability to connect with the people we wanted to serve since most had neither internet access nor a device,” says Allison Strobel, who oversaw the project for the Jersey City Housing Authority.
Some 100 local volunteers helped with the needed community outreach work of door-knocking and staffing in-person events. Their efforts resulted in 46 older residents signing up to receive a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet and one-on-one digital literacy lessons from Hudson County Community College students.
Money from the grant was used to purchase Amazon Fire Tablets and provide a stipend to the 12 student instructors, who were selected out of 150 applicants and provided up to 20 hours of tutoring. Each resident received about four hours of training divided into multiple sessions. The students also helped them register for free at-home broadband service through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program.
Lindsey Nunez, 21, brought her experience as her family’s go-to troubleshooter for anything technology-related. “I taught my participants how to turn the tablets on and off, download apps and connect to Wi-Fi,” says Nunez. “I helped one of the women learn how to enlarge the little letters on her cell phone.”
Resident Wanda Ramos, 58, is impressed by her new skills. “I got a new medication and learned how to Google to read the side effects,” she says, adding that she now knows how to download apps, including navigation tools. “I didn’t realize you could use GPS for walking. I thought it was only for cars and buses.”
Best of all, Ramos learned how to voice message her sister and she no longer has to seek out a relative whenever she needs something from the internet. The lessons, she says, gave her “more independence. Now I don’t have to depend on somebody to help me.”
Read AARP's article "Closing the Digital Divide — Together," featuring the Jersey City Housing Authority.