Westchester Library System’s Digital Equity
Initiative – Reconnect with Tech
Terry Kirchner, WLS Executive Director; Linda Smith, WLS Digital Navigator, Walter Rendon, STEM Alliance; Pat Brigham WLS Director of Development; County Executive Latimer, George Spano, Meg Kaufer, The STEM Alliance, Nory Padilla, First Deputy Commissioner, WC Department of Corrections, Joseph Spano, Commissioner, WC Department of Corrections, met on October 27, 2022 for the launch of Reconnect With Tech. (photo credit: J. Vecchiolla)
Westchester Library System (WLS) Digital Equity Initiative now includes targeted technology support for individuals returning to the community after incarceration with the Reconnect with Tech. WLS is collaborating with The STEM Alliance to offer Wi-Fi enabled Chromebooks with one year Wi-Fi subscription to returning citizens who successfully complete a 15-hour digital skills training workshop and an introduction to library resources. Participants who are seeking to enhance their skills to become engaged, informed, and productive citizens are identified through the Westchester County Department of Corrections and other reentry service providers.
“The STEM Alliance is honored to lend our expertise in digital equity to these strong partners so that we can create an innovative and successful platform of digital skills and resources for individuals who were formerly incarcerated. Equitable access to tools and knowledge is critical for these community members as they work towards a positive and engaged future.” said Margaret Kaufer, President, The STEM Alliance.
This project is made possible with a $250,000 two-year Digital Inclusion Innovation Grant from the New York Digital Inclusion Fund supported by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, to address the digital equity gap for Westchester’s reentry population.
“WLS is honored to be part of this initiative to advance the goals of digital inclusion in New York. The digital divide in our community is real – the pandemic highlighted the gap especially among our most vulnerable populations,” noted Terry Kirchner, WLS executive director. “Digital skills are critical for navigating basic everyday activities from banking to job searching or finding a place to live. Building those skills is an important first step in successful reentry.”
WLS is one of five grantees announced earlier this year for the first round of Digital Inclusion Innovation Grants to implement digital inclusion activities to advance digital equity in NY. Other Grant recipients include Albany Can Code, Inc, DBA CanCode Communities, Friends & Foundation of Albany Public Library, Hispanic Federation, Inc., and The HOPE Program.
The Reentry Digital Inclusion Project is part of WLS’ overall commitment to building digital equity in Westchester County. This spring, WLS also launched the Digital Equity on the Road
A technology equipped eVan and a team of bilingual digital navigators will travel to sites throughout the County to promote digital inclusion and help individuals and families learn
how to access technology, including low-cost broadband, laptops and online resources that promote lifelong learning, employment opportunities, health information, and other essential services.
A focus on community engagement and outreach provides the framework for programs and services at the Westchester Library System (WLS). It is through partnerships with the member libraries, governmental agencies, service organizations, community members, Westchester County and others that WLS can assist them in their efforts to create and grow welcoming, inclusive services and programs for all residents of their community and the County.
WLS Reentry Services also includes reentry information support to returning citizens through its Westchester Connections website (connections.westchesterlibraries.org), with an email/chat helpline and services in English and Spanish and with Westchester Reentry Resource Task Force Guide (updated every other year) that is sent to all correctional facilities in NYS; the Guide is a collaborative effort published by WLS with the assistance of the Westchester Reentry Resource Task Force.