ALAMOSA– What follows is a story of collaboration first born during 2019 Rural Philanthropy Days in a discussion spearheaded by the Community Resource Center of the San Luis Valley. That discussion was focused on prioritizing needs in the valley, one of which was the importance of increasing access to broadband to the people of the San Luis Valley.
Three years later, the result of that discussion is the formation of a coalition of individuals and non-profit organizations based in the San Luis Valley that, in connection with AT&T Colorado, Human I-T and Action22, a non-partisan organization serving as a voice on public policy for 22 southern Colorado counties, has led to the donation of 200 laptops to members of the community.
The laptops will be dispersed to underserved students, their mentors, seniors, and those needing better access to digital resources throughout the San Luis Valley.
As Sara Blackhurst, CEO of Action22, tells the story, SLV Resource Development Group CEO Kevin Wilkins came to Blackhurst on representing the SLV Broadband Coalition Office, which serves as an advisory committee to the SLVRDG. The mission of that committee, inherent to the 200 laptops that will be dispersed, was to ensure all residents of the San Luis Valley have equitable access to opportunities to enjoy the benefits of Broadband.
Blackhursts says that Action22 is entirely focused on deliverables – what tangible, measurable results can her organization deliver to communities in need? Her questions revolved around why isn’t what broadband that is currently available in the valley being used? The answer boiled down to several factors – lifestyle choice (those who choose not to interact with the internet), those who genuinely can’t afford internet access or the devices that are necessary to use the internet and those who struggle with digital literacy and need more than a phone for what they need to accomplish.
In what Blackhurst describes as a sign of the “really good energy” that has surrounded the whole endeavor from the beginning, the very next morning after being approached and discerning the challenges, she received a phone call from Guillermo Lambarri, External Affairs Director with AT&T Colorado.
Lambarri informed Blackhurst that he had two hundred computers that he was looking to donate to a community project.
Over the months that followed, and thanks to the involvement of key individuals and CRC Board member and Guillermo Lambarri with AT&T, a team of “community champions” (as Blackhurst calls them) has been created to facilitate delivery of the laptops to the community.
Those champions include State Representative Donald Valdez, community advocate and former Costilla County Commissioner Lawrence Pacheco, Maria Kramer with the Alamosa Library and Aaron Miltenberger, CEO of Alamosa Boys & Girls Club.
Individuals in need of a laptop – or know of someone who is in need – are instructed to go to the website [email protected] . Once there, people will be referred to one of the champions – who will have autonomy in dispersing the laptops and will then connect with the individual and facilitate deliver of the laptops.
The devices to be delivered are Chromebooks, which are known to be easy to set up, and will come with one year of tech support. Also, according to Blackhurst, if it is discovered that additional laptops are needed, they can be accessed for a cost of $55 each through Human I-T.
“People having access to broadband and computers is necessary to success,” said Representative Valdez. “And people shouldn’t have to go to places they wouldn’t usually go just to have internet connection. This is a big step forward for the people of the San Luis Valley and I’m happy to be a part of this project.”
In a sign that this program is now a reality in progress, the first five of 200 laptops were presented on Thursday to Anika Velasquez with Kids Connection in Monte Vista. In receiving the laptops, Marquez said that devices will make an enormous difference to the education and experience of her students. “They won’t have to be using their phone or someone else’s just to do research anymore.”