Merlene Davis: Training program will bring computer technology to area being transformed

I can no longer imagine what life would be like without a computer, smartphone or the Internet. And, although I fought participating in the digital age, I finally gave in and learned how to join it.

There are a number of people, however, well within the boundaries of a relatively prosperous Fayette County, who don't have a computer, don't have access to broadband or who are terrified of technology. The overwhelming amount of information and services that is readily available and second nature to many of us is unavailable to them.

Fortunately, that number is decreasing, thanks to social agencies, businesses and our local government who know we all will be better off when we are working from the same playbook.

In partnership with the William Wells Brown Community Center, the Kentucky Housing Corporation, Lexington Housing Authority and Lexmark International, ConnectKentucky will launch a new technology training program on Tuesday aimed at enhancing the lives of those living in the 292 Hope VI Apartments in downtown Lexington.

"We have enough to put 100 people through the program, so it is really first-come, first-served," said Heather Gate, manager of digital inclusion program development at ConnectKentucky. "Our vision and mission is to make sure everyone has access to computers. It is becoming an equity issue. Students who can go home and do homework on a computer have an advantage."

The targeted area is near William Wells Brown, and the targeted population is families and seniors. The goal, she said, is to give East End residents a chance to compete in a global economy by placing a crucial piece of the puzzle in their hands.

This program is an expansion of a similar one made available to new homeowners in Equestrian View, also in the East End community.

This is the first time ConnectKentucky has formed a partnership with Kentucky Housing, which is funding the project with a grant of $134,500, Gate said.

"We are about helping people become self-sufficient," said Amanda Palmer, spokesperson for Kentucky Housing.

"Housing is one piece of the puzzle. Housing is our main focus, but we are happy to be a part of this and give families better opportunities. Without technology, they are missing a piece of the puzzle," she added.

ConnectKentucky began as a public-private partnership in 2004 to fill gaps in broadband coverage across the state and to teach residents how to use computers.

Much of its initial work was done in Eastern Kentucky and in rural areas, Gate said. Inmates at Blackburn Correctional Facility refurbished state computers which were given to students in those areas.

Residents of the Hope VI apartments will be able to sign up for six hours of computer lessons, at the end of which they will be given a desk-top computer, a printer and subsidized broadband access for six months, Gate said.

Priority will be given to families with schoolchildren and to seniors. No one who has participated in a similar program with the Lexington Fayette County Urban League will be accepted, Gate said.

"We are trying to make sure everyone is covered," she added.

1st District Councilman Chris Ford said the program is a continuation of improvements to the area, which is being transformed. Now, in addition to new homes, residents will have the opportunity to gain new skills and improve their employment opportunities.

"Building the housing was the easier task," Ford said. "This is a layering of the investment."