Computers have become an essential in today’s modern world, but many in Boston don’t have the means to access them in their homes or even repair the expensive technology needed to connect online. One grant given by the City will help make that connection for both young adults and those in need of repairs a little bit easier.
On Thursday, Feb. 8, Mayor Martin Walsh announced the Castle Square Tenants Organization (CSTO) was the recipient of a $35,000 grant for the City of Boston Digital Equity Fund.
The grant will allow CSTO to expand their digital program called “Square Tech” that teaches youth essential computer skills. Currently the program has 12 students and CSTO hopes to increase the number to 27. They would also like to add an additional instructor.
The Digital Equity Fund, created in October, aims to provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today’s media and information landscape.
“A more connected Boston is a more equitable City, a more innovative City, and a more prosperous City,” said Mayor Walsh in statement. “We’re pleased to award this grant to a program that will help out residents grow their digital skills while increasing access to information for all.”
The CSTO’s mission is to promote the economic, educational and social empowerment of low-income individuals by providing access to safe, quality, affordable housing and supportive direct service programs.
The organization offers paid internships through which low-income, Boston high school students, ages 14 through 19, learn valuable digital skills.
During the program students apply their learned IT training to refurbish computers, which are then available for suggested donation. This increases affordable access to technology to some of Boston’s most unconnected communities.
Throughout the program, teens learn skills such as PC Hardware, advanced networking, financial literacy, programming codes, business and customer service training and resume writing and job readiness.
“It is great working with the youth,” said Irene Matos-Chan, the Square Tech manger. “Some kids come in with some technology background, and others come in with none. It is fun to see the kids work together and help each other in a hands-on skill they didn’t know.”
At the end of the program, Matos-Chan said the students have a blast showing off what they learned in a showcase presentation to staff, family members and the community.
“It’s great because after they complete the program, they take what they learned here and bring it back to their families and communities to help fix their computers,” said Matos-Chan.
The program serves various Boston neighborhoods including Chinatown, Dorchester, Downtown, Mattapan, Mission Hill, Roxbury, South Boston, and the South End.
Some previous students have taken their skills to college with some studying computer science or using the skills they learned in other majors at Harvard, Princeton, Wentworth, Bunker Hill Community College and Northeastern.
The program runs Monday through Friday from 4 – 6 p.m. after school. During the summer, it runs for seven weeks, but for four hours each day.
CSTO has been dabbling in technology for about 10 years now. It first began when they built a wireless network for the residents of Castle Square to use for free. The Boston Foundation granted them $40,000, along with the Wynn Company’s donation of $20,000 to accomplish that goal.
As time went on, they started a program that engaged students and set up a help desk for residents to bring in their broken computers for repair.
“We were finding that it was too expensive for many of the residents to buy a computer or if they did have one, and it broke, they couldn’t afford to fix it, and it just sat on a shelf,” said Deborah Backus, executive director of CSTO. “We fill in that need for the Greater Boston community.”
By providing seed funding to CSTO, the City hopes to identify promising strategies that can attract outside funding and further create a city where everyone has the tools and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
The goal of the Digital Equity Fund is to explore ways to build individual and community capacity to use the Internet and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, civic endeavors and engage with the Internet safely and securely.
The fund also wants to increase broadband adoption among the roughly one in five Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in their home.
The Department of Innovation and external Fund Council consisting of five members oversee the Digital Equity Fund. Advisory board members are appointed by Mayor Martin Walsh and serve three-year terms.
To qualify for a grant, nonprofit organizations must be Boston-based and serve Boston residents. The grant received eight applications between October and November 2017. CSTO received the entire grant for this year.
The CSTO has a waitlist of students for the spring 2018 semester. Individuals and nonprofits seeking refurbished computers or IT support or who wish to donate used equipment, including both desktop and laptops and PCs and Macs can contact Irene Chan at [email protected].