Every day, tech is loudly hailed as an equalizer — sometimes, the equalizer. But while there may be shimmering, field-leveling opportunity out there, it tends to be scarcest in places where accessibility to technology is limited.
Every weekday afternoon in South Atlanta, dozens of elementary school students catch glimpses of such opportunity at Rosel Fann Recreation Center — one of the 10 sites Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has designated as “Centers of Hope”. The students spend key time interacting with technology and learning essential computer skills with the help of an instructor.
These Centers of Hope are part of a campaign promise Reed made good in 2011 to re-open some of the city’s once-shuttered recreation centers. He aimed to broaden the programming at the Centers beyond athletics to include educational, cultural and artistic training.
As the emphasis on early exposure to STEM fields continues to grow, it’s easy to see why the city saw the importance of including technology in the Centers of Hope program. To help execute this, they partnered with Google Fiber. Earlier this year, Fiber announced its commitment to retrofit all 10 Centers of Hope sites with new computers, printers, Chromeboxes, Google Cardboard, new furniture, fresh paint, and artwork.
“The quality of programming we’re able to provide, and the cost of that, requires us to be heavily supplemented by not only the city’s general fund, but also by public-private partnerships, like what we have with Google,” says LaChandra Burks, the executive director of Atlanta’s Office of Recreation.
Burks is also a product of Atlanta’s recreation centers, saying she grew up attending programs at the Adamsville Center in Southwest Atlanta. She says access to the community and opportunity got her to where she is today.
Fabiola Charles Stokes, a Community Impact Manager with Google Fiber, says her organization has been focused on training recreation center program directors so they can work with students and members of the community in the labs. The team has also lined up a number of third-party partnerships to help with programming. Black Girls Code, the Boys & Girls Club, and others have begun to work with the Centers of Hope after-school programs, teaching classes, and talking to students about opportunity in STEM fields.
Stokes explained that the whole partnership began in 2014 through a digital inclusion fellowship Google sponsored.
“In that program, we basically take career individuals and we place them with host organizations across our Fiber cities,” she says. “We had a fellow who was hosted by Atlanta’s department of parks and recreation, so we essentially paid a salary for them to be with the organization for a year and worked with them on programming. And one of the things that they did was rotate through all the recreation centers and teach computer classes, do some programming for young people, adults, and seniors.”
As the fellow and Google Fiber became more integrated with Burks and Atlanta Parks and Recreation, the organizations saw an opportunity to make a greater impact.
“The fellows’ involvement at the centers really gave us an opportunity to look and say, ‘Okay, here are the resources the recreation centers do have, and here are some things we could look at supplementing for them so they continue to do this kind of work.’”
Now Google Fiber has supplied almost all of the Centers of Hope computer labs with 20 or more devices for use by both the after school students and the community, more broadly. Burks says this is a major benefit for a number of groups in the surrounding community.
It gives seniors the ability to maintain their social security, which has become completely digitized as a program. It also gives job seekers the opportunity to fill out employment applications online.
And it gives young students, many of whom wouldn’t even have access to the internet at home, a chance to prepare for a career in a technical field — making them that much more likely to be able to ride the million-figure growth in technology occupations by the time they’re ready to go to work.