Over 25,000 local families will get free or low-cost laptops, internet through new tech program

Denise Dillard of Long Beach had a computer for her family at one point, but it soon became outdated and infected with malware, and too expensive to repair.

“Especially being a single parent, it’s a little too much to keep everything up and do regular household bills,” said Dillard, whose daughter is about to start eighth grade.

Maria Honorato was in a similar situation: she had never been able to provide her three children, ages 3, 9, and 11, with a computer. This year, her son’s elementary school recommended parents provide their kids with tablets at home for assignments.

“That’s when we knew we had to do something about it,” Honorato said.

Through Hamilton Middle School’s website, Honorato discovered a program that would provide free laptops and low-cost internet to qualifying low-income families.

Individuals walk out of the school gym after Human I-T gave away Chromebooks and a hotspot with two months of free internet to low income families at Hamilton Middle School in North Long Beach August 22, 2018. Photo by Thomas R Cordova

That program, called human I-T Connect Long Beach, launched Wednesday at Hamilton Middle School in North Long Beach, where Honorato and Dillard were two of 75 pre-screened families that picked up a free, brand new Google Chromebook laptop and a Wi-Fi hotspot with two months of free internet.

The effort was made possible by local tech nonprofit human I-T, whose mission is to shrink the digital divide by providing low-income families with computers, internet and digital training. The company also reduces electronic waste by refurbishing old electronics.

This year, human I-T scored $1.5 million in funding from the California Emerging Technology Fund to help connect over 25,000 families to technology and low-cost internet. While the fund allowed the nonprofit to give out free laptops on Wednesday, donations from corporate sponsors allowed families to receive Wi-Fi devices and two months of free internet. The families also qualified to receive low-cost internet at $15 a month after the offer expired.

While not every family can qualify to receive free laptops, nonprofit co-founder James Jack said that funding secured through other sources—under the human I-T Connect Long Beach program—will allow the nonprofit to sell computers at a reduced price, in some cases for $50 or less. Depending on a person’s ZIP code and income level, they can also qualify for low-cost internet, ranging from $10 to $25.

Through the program, the nonprofit also aims to install five computer labs at local organizations that can serve as resources for communities that may not have a library nearby. Plans are already underway to install the first one somewhere in the First Council District, which includes portions of Downtown and the Westside.

Tyler Brandy, 12, walks out with his step-dad Jerry Moss after Human I-T gave away Chromebooks and a hotspot with two months of free internet to low income families at Hamilton Middle School in North Long Beach August 22, 2018. Photo by Thomas R Cordova

“Every single family here just wants to do the best they can for their family, and that may be seeking opportunities through work, through school, whatever it maybe,” said Jack. “And in this day and age, unless you have access in the home, there are obstacles in front of you so it’s just a piece of mind knowing that we are really seeding opportunity onto communities that need it most that are often overlooked.”

The nonprofit is concentrating many of its efforts in Long Beach. An estimated 25.3 percent (118,942) Long Beach residents lack access to a computer with internet at home, according to human I-T, meaning that one in four people are potentially cut off from tools for upward mobility. The lack of internet access is greater among the city’s minority communities.

Human I-T gave away Chromebooks and a hotspot with two months of free internet to low income families at Hamilton Middle School in North Long Beach August 22, 2018. Photo by Thomas R Cordova

Human I-T has partnered with the Long Beach Unified School District to identify more families who qualify from the program and is currently in talks with the city and other organizations for help in reaching these households.

The city is currently undergoing its own efforts in closing the digital divide, looking into partnerships with the private sector to provide more broadband resources and implementing a project that would expand Wi-Fi access in North Long Beach.

For those seeking assistance in accessing technology and low-cost internet, visit human I-T or text its Programs Team at (562) 372-6925.

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Stephanie Rivera is the immigration and diversity reporter for the Long Beach Post. Growing up as one of six kids in the working-class immigrant suburb of South Gate, she was taught the importance of civic engagement and to show compassion for others. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015. An avid Harry Potter fan, Stephanie now lives in Bixby Knolls with her boyfriend and their bearded dragon, Austin.
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