Peninsula Family Service, a nonprofit based out of San Mateo County, is changing the lives of everyone from infants to older adults. The organization provides a wide range of comprehensive services, such as early learning, child care, workforce development, financial assistance, and robust services for older adults, including transportation support, meals, health checks, counseling, and more.
One of PFS’ particularly noteworthy initiatives is Help@Hand, which helps older adults get connected to the internet. As part of this program, the team’s two Digital Navigators host various series of six-session, weekly workshops, which teach basic digital skills. This is paired with additional monthly workshops that dive deeper into particular, more specific topics. Additionally, the Navigators provide tech support both before and after classes, and by appointment. These offerings are available across 16 different partner sites throughout the county.
To bolster this program even more, PFS teamed up with Community Tech Network, which has been working with San Mateo County to implement a large-scale digital equity initiative as part of the state’s Access to Technology plan. Through this partnership, PFS refers learners to CTN’s Home Connect services, which provide free tablets and remote, one-on-one technology training.
“It was becoming a lot for just two Digital Navigators,” says Patricia Duarte, the Technology Navigation Program Manager at PFS. “Before, we had to set tablets up for learners on our own. CTN does everything we had to do ourselves. It got a lot of weight off our shoulders so that now we have more time to focus on our workshops. I love the fact that we’re able to participate in this program.”
PFS clients have also been excited about the partnership. “We’ve referred 76 individuals already to Home Connect. We originally signed up to refer 150 people in total, but had to increase that number because there are still a lot of people interested. We host tabling events on site so that people can come and sign up right there” adds Duarte.
Over the years, PFS has directly seen the impact of technology on learners’ lives. For Duarte, several “mission moments” particularly stand out in her mind. “One man was getting surgery, and he asked us to help him download chair dancing videos so that he could do it while he was resting in bed. Another woman who’s homebound has a cell phone that is really old and she can’t make calls sometimes. We showed her how to use an app on her tablet to call a taxi, and she was so excited to be able to go to the grocery store by herself for the first time in two years. There’s also another woman who is like an ambassador for our technology classes. She’ll start calling other people in the independent living facility saying, ‘The Navigators are here, are you coming down or what? We need to take these classes; it helps us stay in community and get to know each other.’”
In addition to referring learners to Home Connect, PFS has also partnered with CTN to host Affordable Connectivity Program workshops in order to help individuals sign up for low-cost home internet. The PFS team also participated in CTN’s digitalLIFT capacity-building, or “train the trainer” initiatives. Duarte says it was “really helpful, especially for the people just starting so that they could become more comfortable teaching technology.”
While there is still definitely much left to be done in terms of bridging the digital divide in San Mateo County, Community Tech Network and Peninsula Family Service are working to help as many people as possible get online so that they can reap the benefits of using the internet.