Beechwood, Ohio – The digital divide in Northeast Ohio affects families in many different ways from education to employment. The Phe’be Foundation’s Wired 2 Work program aims to tackle employment by paying families online to help adults keep their jobs, like Jessica Keys.
“I am a collection agent. At first, we advocate for debt collectors,” Keys said. “So when the pandemic hit a lot of people were out of work. They were not – not alone – able to provide for their families, but they were unable to take care of their former due dates. So it affected my work in a big way.”
Keys said that during the pandemic, her employer allowed her to work remotely, but she had trouble providing high-speed internet, which affected the number of calls she could make and her paycheck.
“It was a little confusing and with not being able to have the capabilities to work the way I needed to work, I was losing money,” Keys said.
She turned to Wired 2 Work, an initiative started by Phe’be, a nonprofit for financial literacy education in Cuyahoga County.
CEO Sharon Murphy Williams said that when the pandemic hit and things became virtual, they realized they couldn’t reach many of their customers due to the digital divide, so they started the program, geared specifically to adults who need the internet to keep their jobs.
“We’ve created a fund, if you will, where we help people bridge the financial divide of the digital divide. Up to one year, we’ll pay for someone’s internet service,” Murphy Williams said. “We went out of the traditional box to help those who always had help, we met where our seniors were, and we had to provide hotspots that were in broken-down shelters just to get access to their banking because we saw a lot of bank fraud through seniors.”
“We provided hotspots for college students in Cleveland who live in men’s shelters, who use the campus library to finish their work, do their school, and when the campus is closed like in the country — how did they do that?” said Murphy Williams. We were able to be one of those vehicles that they could use and they didn’t have to be on public assistance or have a disability.”
It was funded with contributions from Fifth Bank, Dominion East Ohio, and nearly $25,000 from the United Black Fund alone.
“In a world where things are rapidly becoming virtual, our quick decision was to fund this effort,” United Black Box CEO Cecil Lipscombe said.
So far, it has connected 67 families and more than 500 individuals.
All people have to do to sign up for the program is show that they need help – even if they still have an income.
“I was working for pay. And usually, when you hear about programs like this, you’re going to need — at the end of the pandemic — to be unemployed. You’re going to need to have kids, get financial help, and I didn’t have any of that,” Keys said. Very much when I found an organization that offered me some form of help, even though I was an employee.”
The results have been fantastic, said Murphy Williams.
“We’ve been able to help people keep working, and we have the option to work from home, as this internet service has allowed them to choose and keep their jobs,” Murphy Williams said. “We have some kids who have actually been able to go to their graduation, because it was virtual. We just watched people get better.”
She said she’s even seen some people get back on their feet after a few months and pay the rest of their service to someone else in need, as did Keys.
“I was able to use their help for about six months. Then, I was able to go ahead and reconfigure my budget, and I was able to give those other six months back to someone else who was in my position who could use it,” Keys said. “I was very fortunate to have the organization and someone like Miss Murphy Williams, who sat down, looked at my budget and helped me initially to be able to help someone else.”
Lipscomb said the program is a work in progress, but it has many success stories.
“But as we know, the world is making a decision now, whether we will expand this virtual environment or whether we will withdraw from it. So, my fear is that people will not get job opportunities in the future… We will continue to support Wired 2 Work. But there is more in the The future “We have to do more and more money to get people to have access to Internet computers and just have a critical understanding of how this digital age came about,” Lipscomb said.
Wired 2 Work is open to people in need across Northeast Ohio, not just in Cuyahoga County. Murphy Williams said the Phe’be Foundation began a fundraiser in April to win more funding for the program. For more information, scan the QR code below or text “CONNECTCLE” to 44-321.
Jed Jarvis is a reporter for News 5 Cleveland. follow her on facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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