A new grant will help Washington State University’s Grays Harbor County Extension advance its mission of bringing digital resources directly to rural and tribal communities.
“We like that this grant is very county-focused,” said Dan Teuteberg, director of WSU Extension Mason County and Grays Harbor County. “It advances WSU’s mission and helps Extension be a partner with the community by bringing the land-grant university’s resources to the people where they live and work.”
Grays Harbor County Extension is one of 18 grantees to receive funding via the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), an Ohio-based nonprofit that supports digital equity programs in communities, advocates for policy change, and educates policymakers and others.
Google’s charitable arm, Google.org, provided the NDIA with a $10 million grant in February 2022. More than $6.6 million of that funding was earmarked for the formation of the National Digital Navigator Corps, a group of guides responsible for fostering digital inclusion in rural and tribal communities throughout the U.S.
The new Digital Navigator program in Grays Harbor County will complement the region’s existing 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which is designed to help adults learn basic digital skills — like setting up an email address or creating a safe password — from youth teachers who, in turn, learn valuable teaching skills from the experience.
Though the two programs may end up offering similar courses, Digital Navigators are full-time “digital social workers,” who already possess teaching skills and can help with broader personalized assessments of individual situations while providing resources.
“I’m looking forward to what the Digital Navigator program can do,” Teuteberg said. “Our county is struggling with digital literacy, and this is one way that Extension can provide significant support. That connection to higher education and information is absolutely critical.”
Grays Harbor County Extension will use the $354,000 grant to pay Digital Navigator employees, purchase electronic devices for the community, fund regional conferences, support travel, and more. Pinpointing commonly requested skills and developing curriculums based on community needs, Digital Navigators will teach digital skills, help people sign up for internet plans, and assist with related needs.
The 30-month grant will focus on helping individuals in rural communities as well as members of the Quinault Indian Nation and Chehalis Tribe. As the county’s two tribal partners, they will be heavily involved in any decision-making related to the grant.
“It’s not for the communities that we serve, it’s with the communities we serve,” Teuteberg said. “That’s a unique part of the fiscal program.”
Grays Harbor County previously received a grant to support the 4-H Tech Changemakers program, but this is the first time WSU has a received a grant that involves adults working in this capacity, Teuteberg said.
A fundamental component of the Digital Navigator program is in-person interaction, which helps build trust and teach skills effectively, said Dustin Loup, WSU Extension broadband and digital equity project director. Loup helped WSU Extension apply for the NDIA grant.
“The Digital Navigator will support the growth of a stronger community by developing the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to take advantage of the opportunity that the internet brings,” Loup said. “Through those direct, personal relationships, Digital Navigators can provide individualized support and inform wider efforts to understand and address digital equity needs throughout our communities.”
The Digital Navigator program may also provide an example that other counties can learn from and use in their own rural communities.
“This model is something that other counties could see as beneficial,” Loup added. “There are different ways that communities can have some sort of local digital navigator, and many opportunities to assist on an individual and community level while creating a better, cohesive understanding on a regional basis.”
Teuteberg sees a bright future of digital connectivity and literacy for Grays Harbor County, thanks to this funding.
“I’m excited for Grays Harbor County and this wonderful opportunity to gain knowledge and support from many community players,” he said. “I look forward to seeing the impact on those that need help with digital literacy.”