latoya-giles.jpgLow-income families with children in Broward County who receive free or reduced-price school lunches as a part of their enrollment in the National School Lunch Program can now be a part of  a campaign to bridge the digital divide.

The Urban League of Broward County, Comcast, and Broward County Schools are now in the second year of the Internet Essentials Program in South Florida, an initiative that helps connect low-income families to the Internet.

More than 12,000 Florida families have enrolled in the program, more than 2,100 of them in Broward County, according to Charisse R. Lillie, Comcast’s
vice president of community investment.

“This makes the enrollment here the largest across the country,” she said at a recent event held to announce the start of the second year of the initiative.
Participants in the program receive Internet service for $9.95 per month, the option to purchase a computer for $149.99 and access to free digital literacy training in print, online or in person.

Those prices will not increase and there are no activation or equipment rental fees.

More than 36,000 Broward families are eligible for the program, according to Urban League president and CEO Jermaine Smith-Baugh. To address the community’s need for computers, the league will be the first community agency in Florida to participate in Comcast’s bulk program.

“We will provide 100 computers to families within the community,” Smith-Baugh said.

Latoya Giles, of Fort Lauderdale, speaking at the event, said having access to the Internet has allowed her to take online classes at Broward College. “I can complete my homework and do research without having to go to the library or to a friend’s house,” she said.

Giles’ son, Kyson Bess, 6, visits the Internet daily. “I play word games, read, do math. I think I am a better reader because I do it all the time now. And I teach my sister what I learn too. She’s 3,” he said.

Today’s children are tech savvy and have to be prepared to compete globally, Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner said during the event.

“Internet access empowers them and we need to be supportive.”
Fort Lauderdale resident Patricia Irving, 26, said she recently applied to the program. “I am a full-time student and mother of three so having a computer in the home, as well as Internet access, saves me the time I have been spending waiting for a computer in the library. I can work at night now, if I like,” she said.

Donneil Grant, 14, said that the Internet is helpful when researching school projects or completing academic work. The Margate Middle School eighth-grader had been visiting friends or family to use a computer.

“But, with owning one, I can get my homework done and use it as long as I like,” he said.

Students need Internet access to complete homework, online job searches and even online classes for credit recovery, said Robert Runcie, Broward County school superintendent.

The Miami Heat’s  James Jones also lent support.

Lillie described the Internet as a “treasure trove of information,” adding, “It will make all the difference in (our kids’) lives.”

For more information about the program or to enroll, call 855-846-8376.

*Pictured above is student LaToya Giles.