Bridging the digital divide

Solar charging stations offer free access to the online world.

By Robert McClelland, member of the Kiwanis Club of Alcoa, Tennessee

Thousands of households in Blount County, Tennessee, have no computers or internet access. Recognizing an imperative to help these families, the Alcoa Kiwanis Club successfully applied for a US$33,000 grant from the Arconic Foundation to address the area’s digital divide. 

For our club, key elements of the project include collaboration with four other organizations and a two-pronged approach to the effort. Our club is partnering with the local library, the county parks and recreation department and the county government’s information technology department to provide a safe and accessible space for individuals to use the internet at no cost. 

In addition, eligible low-income school children are receiving free refurbished computer systems, thanks to our partnership with the Tellico Village Computer Users Club’s Technology Access Program. With the computers, the students can fully participate in the technological world where they live and learn.

Two sustainable solar charging stations that act as Wi-Fi extenders were also purchased and recently installed outside the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center in Alcoa. People who use these tables can charge laptops, tablets, phones or other devices and access online information for personal, school, business, professional and career growth at any time of the day or night. 

Anjanae Brueland, interim director of the library, says the tables are especially important right now. 

“These outside tables provide internet access in an outdoor environment that takes social distancing into consideration, which is a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic given that people without internet access must seek access somewhere else in the community.”

In the first four months of the project, about 250 refurbished computer systems had been donated to area kids.

Tanya Martin, an Alcoa city commissioner, praised the service that our club is providing to the community. 

“Kiwanis displays a genuine desire to make a difference in our community,” Martin says. “Those tables will definitely help residents for years to come. Many people and organizations like to talk about what needs to be done, but they never do anything. Kiwanis puts words into deeds.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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