Maria Montoya is Helping Connect Families to Essential Digital Devices

Maria Montoya is Helping Connect Families to Essential Digital Devices

Maria Montoya serves as chair of Connect 313’s Devices and Connectivity Committee. She’s passionate about working with communities to ensure children and families have what they need to succeed. 

“I have never met a parent who doesn’t want the best for their child or their family, but, more often than not, barriers exist to them being able to access their full ability to reach their dreams,” Maria said. “Sometimes that’s knowledge and other times it can be actual tools, such as a device.”

Maria got involved with Connect 313 through Brilliant Detroit’s partnership with Human-I-T. She’s a former journalist whose desire to help families inspired her to change career paths.

“I spent the first half of my career covering celebrities, children and families, and education as a features writer at USA Today and the Times-Picayune (New Orleans),” she shared. “I moved into education and advocacy work in 2008 when I left journalism to be part of a team of parents pushing for better access to public schools and childcare in New Orleans.” 

That work ultimately led Maria to Detroit. 

“I have lived here for seven years, and what I love about the city is very similar to what I love about New Orleans – the people. This city’s love and appreciation of its culture and history is evident, even among very young Detroiters,” Maria said.

At Connect 313, she’s working to close the digital divide by ensuring families with kids have the devices they need and stable, low cost or no cost Wi-Fi. She focuses on collaboration and efficiency to best serve the people of Detroit.

“Connect 313 is a community-centered initiative that anyone can get involved in and I truly believe what’s made it so remarkable is the fact that there is room at the table for everyone,” she said. “Part of the reason why our city is leading in closing the digital gap is because every voice is being included in the work. We should never stop pushing ourselves to make sure the community is at the heart of all the decisions we make.”

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Meet Shadora Ford, your District Five Community Ambassador

Meet Shadora Ford, your District Five Community Ambassador

High-energy Shadora is the founder and leader of Destined for Greatness, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering and motivating at-risk girls and young women in Detroit to do things that once seemed impossible. DFG provides training in hygiene, self-esteem, education, and job readiness along with groceries, household supplies, summer youth jobs and back-to-school essentials. In her role, Shadora understands the need for all Detroiters to have equal access to high-speed internet and the skills needed to navigate our digital world.

Read on to learn more about your District Five community ambassador.

C313: Tell us about your district and what makes it special?

Shadora: District 5 is a thriving community of folks who have been underserved and overlooked yet remain resilient enough to create lifelong histories shared from generation to generation. I grew up in 48214, and as a resident I appreciate the many programs and organizations, such as MACC Development, delivering essential services to those in need.

C313: How do you describe your work with Connect 313 to your family and friends?

Shadora: Connect 313 is providing FREE digital literacy classes, affordable internet and low-cost devices to Detroiters. With partners such as Rocket Mortgage, Infinity and Human IT we have community ambassadors in each of Detroit’s seven districts. I’m proud to have helped in the creation of 17 Connect 313 Tech Hubs across Detroit, for residents to enjoy! #POWEREDBYDETROIT

C313: Why do you love being a community ambassador?

Shadora: My God given purpose, passion and pride comes from helping people! In my role as a community ambassador, I have the privilege of helping people sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which means more people can experience low cost internet from the comfort of their own home.

C313: Tell us one surprising fact about yourself?

Shadora: I was born at 5555 Conner Street in Detroit, at what was then Mercy Hospital. Since 2010, I have mentored over 15,000 girls and helped nearly 50,000 families at the same 5555 Conner Street address, where I created the Destined for Greatness Mentoring & Community Resource Center!

C313: Favorite thing about Detroit?

Shadora: Detroit is home sweet home and a beautiful, diverse blend of innovative people who have coined catchy phrases for the world to repeat such as “What Up Doe?” and “Detroit vs. Everybody.”

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Meet Debra Anderson, your District Seven Community Ambassador.

Meet Debra Anderson, your District Seven Community Ambassador. 

Debra serves on the board of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO), which is a federation of some 130 black and non-black organizations working to build a stronger community through a variety of services including HIV and suicide prevention, substance abuse support and COVID-19 resources. Additionally, DABO is a Connect 313 Tech Hub where Detroiters can access computer hardware, internet technology, digital literacy programming and tech-savvy staff. Visit DABO at 12048 Grand River, in Detroit.  

Read on to learn more about Debra, your District Seven community ambassador.  

C313: Tell us about District Seven and what makes it special? 

Debra: District 7 is located in the heart of a robust residential community with businesses, community and recreation centers, parks and churches where our residents can engage, learn and thrive. 

C313: How do you describe your work with Connect 313 to your family and friends? 

Debra: The DABO Community Center in District 7 offers many services to the public including a health clinic, senior exercise and dance programs, youth summer employment, a meeting place for local block clubs, and a live radio broadcast every Saturday, where I announce Connect 313 services and events. 

C313: Why do you love being a community ambassador? 

Debra: I love being a Connect313 Ambassador because it gives me an opportunity to offer valuable services to the community, youth, families and seniors.  

C313: Tell us one surprising fact about yourself? 

Debra: I am the official field-trip guru for my church and the DABO center because I enjoy planning excursions to the many cultural, fun and educational sites in our city. We’ve visited the Charles H. Wright Museum, the Motown Museum, and the DNR Outdoor Adventure Center to name a few. 

C313: Favorite thing about Detroit? 

Debra: I love the Riverwalk, which has won first place twice as the best riverwalk in a US city, our cultural and educational sites, and our great ethnic restaurants. 

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Fadiah

Meet Fadiah Yahya, your District Six Community Ambassador

Meet Fadiah Yahya, your District Six Community Ambassador

Fadiah starts her day at the Bridging Communities organization, located at 6900 McGraw Avenue, across from Dingerman Park in Detroit. As the community ambassador to Detroit’s District Six, she’s dedicated to bringing everything internet to neighborhoods across the area. Read on to learn more about Fadiah.

C313: Tell us about District 6

Fadiah: District 6 in southwest Detroit has a unique range of diverse neighborhoods including Mexicantown, Hubbard Farms, Spring Village and others. It’s a multicultural community that shares valuable cultural heritage and resources.

C313: How do you describe your work to friends and relatives?

Fadiah: I am the Connect 313 District 6 Community Ambassador, which means I am here to serve to the best of my ability. I help connect Detroiters to appropriate devices and digital resources for improved learning, employment and wellbeing and tell them about internet discount programs. Detroit deserves to be known as digitally equipped and its people digitally included. Whenever I can, I share the Connect 313 website address, talk about tech hubs, encourage suggestions and support participation in our monthly community conversations.

Connect 313: Why do you love being a community ambassador?

Fadiah: I love that I am able to make a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s a big change or a small one. It truly makes me happy! There’s nothing more valuable and rewarding than being the person who can honestly answer questions without making someone feel uncomfortable or unworthy of my time. I am providing digital resources and empowerment and ensuring all residents have access to affordable, reliable digital technology.

Connect 313: What is your favorite thing about Detroit?

Fadiah: My favorite thing about Detroit is the people. I have travelled in the United States and overseas and couldn’t find that peaceful feeling that I feel being in Detroit. Regardless of the news, I still find Detroit the best city and full of culture, history, and always vibrant.

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Autumn Evans

Autumn Evans is the Detroit Native Helping to Lead Connect 313

Autumn Evans is the Detroit Native Helping to Lead Connect 313

As Detroit’s Deputy Director of Digital Inclusion and Connect 313’s Operations Director, Autumn Evans is on the front lines of ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide in Detroit. And she’s making an impact and helping to change the course of history in the city where she was born and raised.

“Being a native Detroiter brings value to the work that we do,” Autumn says. “To see Detroit go from being the least connected city in the country to being the lighthouse for digital inclusion work, I think that only happens when you are pushing to be innovative and think outside of the box to solve problems experienced by family and friends.”

In 2020, Autumn was helping Focus:HOPE connect homebound and low-income seniors to devices and services and that’s when she got a firsthand look at the impact of the digital divide. Not long after, she began working for the city and helping to lead the data-driven digital inclusion effort that is Connect 313.

In her role, she works tirelessly to ensure processes are developed and followed, strategic partnerships are formed, knowledge and information is shared, and that Connect 313 reaches its goals and continues to evolve.

“I’m very proud of our ability to execute at a high level and bring to life scalable solutions and operations that can help bridge the digital divide,” Autumn says. “I believe the framework can be used to tackle other big issues such as food insecurity or the way the criminal justice system interacts with the community.”

Connect 313’s structure is a proven success. This summer, 17 new tech hubs were funded, bringing the total to 22 citywide. A number of sites received free devices thanks to a partnership with DELL Technologies. Autumn also works to ensure Detroiters have a voice in policy – assisting with the creation of a community organizing model that gives residents a greater say in the digital decisions being made.

“Having that resident-first lens as a city has made Connect 313 high value to the work that we’re doing,” Autumn says. “These big issues are not something a government entity can solve by itself; it takes all of us working together and setting common goals and turning our values into action to see change and make all of our efforts worthwhile.”

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Meet Jennifer Jambor, An Amazing Human From human I-T

Meet Jennifer Jambor, An Amazing Human From human I-T

Succeeding in today’s high-tech world starts with the very basics – a device, internet access, and the proper skills needed to use these digital tools. Jennifer Jambor with human I-T has seen firsthand the difference it can make to get affordable computers into the hands of Detroiters in need.

“I’ve been in front of families that have literally been in tears and told me, ‘We’ve never had a device before,’” she says. “We are truly giving them the opportunity to achieve goals and change the trajectory of where their family will end up.” 

Jennifer manages the Devices & Connectivity committee at Connect 313. It’s a natural extension of her job as Senior Manager of Partnerships and Impact at human-I-T, an organization that provides devices, internet access, digital skills training and tech support in Detroit and other communities struggling to bridge the digital divide. They also empower businesses and organizations to donate devices, diverting technology waste from landfills.

“We believe access to technology is a right, not a privilege,” Jambor explained. “It’s what allows people to study remotely, apply for jobs, attend telehealth appointments, connect with distant family members, or explore new ideas and perspectives. In order to shrink the digital divide, we make it easy for our partners to do good together.”

One of the original and most impactful projects has been the Connected Futures Program, a multi-organizational mission that supplied 51,000 students with tablets, hot spots, and tech support. “When we think about the impact that program made during a critical time for students learning in the City of Detroit, that feels really good,” Jennifer says.

Since opening in Detroit in August 2020, human I-T has:

  • Created 28 jobs at its Focus:HOPE facility; 14 held by Detroit residents
  • Distributed 14,042 laptops and tablets (in addition to the 51,000 mentioned above)
  • Connected 2,756 households to high-speed, low-cost internet
  • Distributed more than 1,000 WIFI hotspots
  • Handled 17,750 tech support calls for DPSCD students
  • Processed more than 1 million pounds of e-waste

“All those initiatives are a perfect example of how when you bring the right people together into a room and you’re all collaborating around the same mission and vision, a significant impact can be made, and we’re able to see that,” Jennifer says.

And there’s more to come. Human-I-T plans to launch its first retail store in Detroit in 2023 that will give people the opportunity to learn more about the types of technology available, buy low-cost devices, take part in training, and ultimately feel supported every step of the way.

How to get a computer now

Residents of Detroit who would like access to low-cost computers, laptops, and tablets, or help getting reduced-rate broadband internet, or tech support or training can call 888-391-7249 or visit Human-I-T.org

How to donate an unneeded computer

Detroit businesses can take advantage of the partnership with human-I-T to recycle and donate technology that they no longer need. With a simple phone call, donors can access human-I-T’s industry-leading IT asset disposition services. human-I-T will arrange an equipment pickup, securely wipe devices of sensitive data, refurbish, and update them, and donate them to local community organizations and individuals who lack access to technology. Damaged or broken items are also accepted for end-of-life product disposal. All donations are tax deductible.

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How A Community Suggestion to Connect 313 Launched a Summer Tech Camp for Kids

How A Community Suggestion to Connect 313 Launched a Summer Tech Camp for Kids

When people think about Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch, video gaming immediately comes to mind. But, these days, gaming can be more than a hobby – it can lead to a lucrative career. That’s why Osborn Neighborhood Alliance Community Ambassador Steven Henry, a self-described ‘tech geek,’ submitted a proposal to Connect 313 for a two-week technology and gaming camp. Connect 313 provided a grant to bring the summer camp experience to life for more than two dozen Detroit-area students ages 8-17.

“Connect 313 has been an open book because they’ve always said, if you have a project or something you’re interested in, submit a proposal,” Steven says. “Ultimately, what I want (the kids) to learn about is gaming and the profession, as well as gaining an understanding about themselves, their goals, and the skills needed to achieve their dreams.”

The camp is currently underway (August 15-26) at the Matrix Center on McNichols, led by the Philadelphia-based group Nerd Street Gamers, a video game company that brings electronic sports, or esports, to communities across the country.

“We love working with kids,” says Ben Beaver, Senior Manager of Youth Camps and Programming at Nerd Street Gamers. “We want them to know that gaming and technology can pay you and it can pay well and it can open doors that otherwise wouldn’t be there. You can get into college through scholarships, which is still growing, but we want them to understand those opportunities exist.”

At the camp, students don’t just play video games, they learn how to build them. They’re also learning about the digital divide, how to bridge the gap, build relationships, and set goals.

“We did an activity earlier today asking them what they want to be when they grow up, so we had them write these things on an index card: How much do they want to make? Where do they see themselves in a few years? Where is some place they want to go in the near future?” Steven explained. “Those things help you to hone in on what their goals are, and we can work on those goals.”

Steven hopes the camp sparks newfound excitement for the endless opportunities a career in the tech world holds – opportunities Detroit students can take advantage of with the tools, skills, training, and access Connect 313 helps to provide. Have a great suggestion? Visit: https://connect313.org/suggestions/ and tell us more!

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Jordan Falby on Connect 313’s Grassroots Approach

Jordan Falby on Connect 313’s Grassroots Approach

Jordan Falby is a self-described “jack-of-all trades,” crafting grant agreements, offering technical assistance, collecting reports, and sharing metrics and information with the Connect 313 collaborative.

She is Connect 313’s Structure & Operations Program Manager, which pairs well with her role at United Way for Southeastern Michigan where she’s the Manager for Collective Impact & Digital Inclusion.

“The core mission of Connect 313 has always been driven by meeting people where they are now, listening to what actual Detroiters say, trying to do our best to align resources with what people actually need, and really trying to understand a layer deeper,” Jordan says.

One of her favorite aspects of Connect 313 is the grassroots approach that’s taken to get people the resources they truly need.

“Even though it’s harder to do it this way, we do not want to just come in and dictate,” Jordan says.

Each month Connect 313 holds meetings that anyone who lives, works, or learns in the City of Detroit can attend. At the meetings, people give feedback, are involved in the decision-making process, and discover local programs and services.

“We invite folks to come and give constructive criticism on any idea we’re looking to implement,” Jordan says.

An exciting pilot project helping to bridge the digital divide is the effort to begin building a high-speed fiber optic infrastructure in HOPE Village. Jordan hopes to see the publicly owned, privately-operated network expand throughout the city.

“A lot of the struggle for many people is you can get a device, but if you can’t afford to consistently have access to the internet in your home, so the device’s capabilities are limited,” she says. “By building this infrastructure we’ll be able to achieve more reliable, affordable service for Detroiters.”

To reach Jordan, email jordan@connect313.org.

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Qumisha Goss is Building Connect 313’s Digital Literacy Playbook

Qumisha Goss is Building Connect 313’s Digital Literacy Playbook

If you’re wondering how these blog posts get on Connect 313’s website, Qumisha Goss is the person who makes it happen. Qumisha is Connect 313’s Digital Literacy Subject Matter Expert and the Management Lead of the Digital Literacy and Skilling Committee.

Before joining Connect 313, Qumisha was a librarian at the Detroit Public Library Parkman branch where she created and ran information and digital literacy programming for the community. Now, she is working hard to create resources for people interested in digital literacy training, including building Connect 313’s Digital Literacy Playbook.

“The Digital Literacy Playbook will include a digital literacy curriculum, and user guides to help people get started with finding a device or internet service and get started with video calling,” she explains. “It will also include user tips for learners, educators, and organizations to help them utilize the playbook.”

Watch our website and social media channels for more details on the playbook soon.

Qumisha was motivated to help bridge the digital divide in part because she loves Detroiters and is passionate about setting them up for success in the digital world.

“Detroiters are resilient and hardworking and its always amazing to see how people make a way for themselves, even with limited funds and resources,” she says. “Learning people’s stories really makes me feel passionately about helping them to demystify technology so they can continue to do great things. Technology is just a tool, and it should feel helpful and not like a burden to people.”

“The work of bridging the digital divide has been and continues to be done by several grassroots initiatives and local organizations and churches throughout the city,” Qumisha adds. “At Connect 313, we want to be a convener and unifier of those different entities so that we can quickly and efficiently bridge the digital divide together.”

As Qumisha works with the team to build new tools and resources for residents, says she would love to see Connect 313 model replicated in other places.

“It’s rare that we have an opportunity for the suggestions and needs of everyday citizens to be supported by the knowledge and financial backing of experts and philanthropist,” she says. “It really is a dynamic relationship.”

To contact Qumisha, email qumisha@connect313.org.

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Total Health Care Check Presentation

Total Health Care Foundation awards $150,000 to benefit Connect 313

Total Health Care Foundation awards $150,000 to benefit Connect 313

On a crisp, clear afternoon at the Detroit Golf Club, the Total Health Care Foundation awarded the Rocket Giving Fund a $150,000 grant to benefit Connect 313, a collaborative organization that aims to close Detroit’s digital divide. The check presentation took place at the AREA 313 Celebrity Scramble on Tuesday, July 26, part of the activities leading up to the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 40% of Detroit homes were without broadband internet access. In a 2019 survey by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Detroit ranked as the least connected large city (more than 100,000 households) in the country. Priority Health is committed to taking steps to improve health equity across Michigan by addressing factors including social determinants of health such as lack of technology, digital access, digital literacy and educational training.

“The inability to access the internet has been identified as a ‘super determinant’ of health and can have a significant, long-lasting impact on people’s well-being. The Rocket Community Fund and Connect 313 are helping shine a light on this critical issue that often impacts our most vulnerable citizens,” said Shannon Wilson, executive director of the Total Health Care Foundation and vice president of Population Health & Health Equity at Priority Health. “Along with other dedicated community partners, Priority Health and the Total Health Care Foundation are committed to ensuring that all people have access to the resources they need to live their healthiest and most prosperous lives.”

The Rocket Giving Fund, the nonprofit that administers the Rocket Mortgage Classic, works closely alongside Connect 313 partners Microsoft, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Rocket Mortgage, and City of Detroit, with the goal of ensuring every Detroiter has access to the internet, technology and digital literacy programming within a 10-minute walk of their home.

“On behalf of our dedicated Connect 313 partners, we are grateful for Priority Health’s commitment to Detroit residents through their generous donation in support of critical digital inclusion efforts,” said Laura Grannemann, Rocket Giving Fund board member. “This commitment will help build neighborhood tech hubs, provide residents with technological devices and support digital literacy programming that ensures Detroit residents are equipped with the tools they need to thrive in our digital-first world.”

Formed as part of the merger agreement between Priority Health and Total Health Care, the Total Health Care Foundation has committed to providing millions of dollars in grants over the next few years. To date, more than $8 million in grants have been distributed to organizations throughout Detroit and Southeast Michigan.

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