Representatives of Comcast, the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington Normal, Unit 5 and State Rep. Dan Brady at the $5,000 grant award Wednesday in Bloomington. (Stephanie Pawlowski/WJBC)
By Stephanie Pawlowski
BLOOMINGTON - Comcast officials say they're trying to help bridge the digital divide, and in Bloomington Wednesday, a $5,000 grant was awarded to the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington Normal.
Club Director Nick Sanchez said there was a reading initiative last summer teaching kids about taking out books. He said the board is thinking about buying some colored Nooks for the students with the money to continue that program.
"So, they would be able to come in and actually have that reading experience enhanced," Sanchez said. "And, teach them how to start downloading books, because I believe that's the next wave of reading."
The Boys and Girls Club averages 71 students a day, and Sanchez said the computer room gets used the most.
"It's very hard to keep up with technology, so anytime Comcast can come out and give a gift like this, it just helps us keep up," Sanchez said.
Comcast Government Affairs Manager Art Svymbersky and other representatives were also on hand to tout the company's national Internet Essentials program, where families with kids on free or reduced lunch can get Internet service for $9.95 a month. He said parents have to go to InternetEssentials.com to get information on signing up.
Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus said he and school officials have been trying to get the word out to families about the program, especially the sixth-grade students who have new, school-issued laptops this year.
"And really, we found from our kids that they've found the (Internet) hot spots, but we want to make sure those hot spots are at their house, or at safe places like at the Boys and Girls Club," Niehaus said.
After a recent audit, Niehaus said 10 percent of the sixth-graders don't have Internet service.
"The other part of it is, what do they have?" Niehaus said. "The speed of this is unbelievable. So, if you're at home and you're working off something that doesn't have the ability to download a video or stream along with an assignment, that's going to be a problem."
Niehaus said he has also been talking to city and town officials about expanding wireless Internet, asking if there's a way to get hot spots in Section 8 housing or places that attract kids.
Comcast Regional Vice President of Government and Community Affairs Matt Summy said Internet Essentials has helped 100,000 people nationwide, 13,000 customers in Illinois and 650 in Central Illinois. He said the goal is to give back to communities where employees live.
Stephanie Pawlowski can be reached at Stephanie.Pawlowski@Cumulus.com