Harnessing community tech focus of statewide meeting

ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Using community technology to reduce the digital, economic, social and cultural divides among Washingtonians will be the topic of a day-long summit held in Ellensburg, Wednesday, Oct. 19. The session is the first statewide meeting of the Communities Connect initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by Washington State University Extension’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide.

“Community technology means directly and purposefully using advanced technologies to achieve development goals for individuals and communities,” said Matthew Mitchell, Communities Connect manager. “The goal of the initiative is to use technology to close the gaps that keep some populations in the state – especially the underserved and disadvantaged- from accessing important information and opportunities and from fully participating in all aspects of community life.”

The Oct. 19 session is designed to refine the ongoing vision and mission of the Communities Connect program and increase participation in the program’s network of community technology organizations. Participants will be introduced to the initiative and asked to share ideas about how it can most effectively move forward. The meeting is open to the entire state and is especially relevant to organizations focused on community development. Participants may register online at www.communitiesconnect.org/events/statewidemtg05.htm .

Examples of community technology projects include using technology to help people with limited English skills earn employment certificates or complete their GEDs, and assisting low-income, urban youth to increase their computer programming skills to help them pursue education and employment in the high tech industry.

Last April, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that WSU Extension’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide would administer Communities Connect, formerly named, Community Access to Technology (CAT) program. Transfer of the program provides long-term sustainability for community technology initiatives in Washington and creates a statewide network of community technology organizations. The shift represents the successful completion of foundation-led grants through CAT and a new era of partnerships to ensure that communities across the state participate in and benefit from advances in technology.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the CAT program in 1999 to help non-profit organizations in Washington provide local communities greater access to digital technology. Over the past five years, the foundation has granted $14 million to Washington state non-profit organizations through the program.

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