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Grant funding to support digital literacy efforts in Capital Region

 Officials and partners in an effort to enhance digital literacy at a press conference Wednesday in Albany
Lucas Willard
Officials and partners in an effort to enhance digital literacy at a press conference Wednesday in Albany

Officials in Albany this morning announced nearly a half-million dollars in funding to support digital literacy efforts and provide more young people with internet access.

Appearing at the Albany Housing Authority’s Capital South Campus Center, officials announced funding that will support three Capital Region non-profits in their efforts to bridge the so-called digital divide.

The more than $400,000 in funding comes from philanthropic organization Schmidt Futures and was awarded through the New York Digital Inclusion Fund.

The largest grant, $250,000 will go to CanCode Communities. Founded as Albany CanCode in 2016, the program gives young people – many in disadvantaged communities – training in computer coding.

The grant money will be used to expand CanCode programs into the Mohawk Valley, Western New York, and New York City.

Annmarie Lanesey, Founder and CEO of CanCode Communities, says more than 400 people have gone through the organization’s programs since 2016.

“And our model has changed through the pandemic. We’re now a hybrid model so both virtual and in-person and we’re excited to be building on our programming here in the Capital Region and being able to offer these opportunities around the state where we see there are very few programs like ours operating, and we’re very exciting to be doing that.”

$130,000 in grant funding will go to the Friends and Foundation of Albany Public Library, where it will be used to expand upon a partnership that began in 2019 to provide internet to Albany Housing Authority residents.

Initially, the program provided Wi-Fi at four outdoor AHA locations. The expansion will provide access at 14 indoor and outdoor locations on 10 AHA campuses. As the Foundation’s Executive Director Lex Bhagat explains, the partners want to ensure the internet remains accessible for years to come.

“The library’s job is to provide that Wi-Fi service. The Foundation’s job is to make sure that it continues through 2030 at least. And so I’m going to be talking to everyone in this room to make sure we have sustainable support to continue this for the long haul,” said Bhagat.

Sixty laptops will be given to those in need at AHA campuses. Forty additional laptops will be available for use in community spaces. The Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area, Excelsior College, and Life Path will provide educational opportunities for AHA residents as well.

Also announced Wednesday, $30,000 will be provided to the United Way to establish an advisory group that will include local stakeholders to help find more ways to address shortcomings and digital inequities in the region.

Peter Gannon is CEO of United Way of the Greater Capital Region.

“It won’t be a surprise to anybody in this room, but folks living below the ALICE threshold are disproportionately affected by lack of access to the internet, by lack of access to devices. And they’re already set back under normal circumstances, it’s exacerbated by what we’ve dealt with for the last two and a half years now,” said Gannon.

The United Way’s ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed.

The non-profit says 40 percent of Albany County residents live below the threshold.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said addressing access issues is just one part of the puzzle toward building a more digitally-inclusive community.

“We need for children living in this community, in this very neighborhood that we are in right now, to see themselves as part of this incredible, technical leapfrogging that we are seeing every single day.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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