Momentum builds for drive to create internet, computer access for local kids

I felt compelled to act when I heard about the reality of local young people falling behind in school work because they lacked access to computers or internet services

Effort to create learning space finds community, business support

Launching with $7,500 in donations from AmeriServ Financial, Inc. and the Employers Medical Access Partnership (eMAP), a campaign to offer local students a space to use computers and connect to wi-fi has been gaining momentum day-by-day over the past week.

Seasoned fundraiser Jack Babich, who organized the push to raise $40,000 toward the effort, said local companies are stepping up to offer equipment and furniture to create the space at Flood City Youth Fitness Academy in Johnstown. Individuals also are making donations to the cause at cfalleghenies.org/connecting-local-kids.

“Everything is starting to come together,” Babich said. “It’s a relatively big project coming together in a relatively short amount of time. Partnerships like this are happening across the country once people are made aware that a need exists.”

Between Wessel & Company and AmeriServ, the two companies have offered 32 laptop and desktop computers. Avail Business Systems, Inc. has offered furnishings and fittings to create 60 workstations, plus storage bins and computer cabinets. The furniture has been ordered and will likely be installed in the next two weeks.

AmeriServ also is donating IT expertise to make sure the devices are properly connected and students will be able to access high-powered wi-fi that has recently been installed. Babich said he’s also working with St. Francis University on potential educational collaborations and other equipment for the space.

“There have been commitments made, and we need to continue to do fundraising,” Babich said. “We have the brick, mortar, and infrastructure—now we’re just waiting on all the rest of the pieces to come together. Within the next few weeks, we should have a great learning site in place.”

The Flood City Youth Fitness Academy has a nearly 20-year track record of providing meaningful programming to children and teens in the area. They have staff available to provide support as kids connect to online classes and assignments.

Babich, who is employed by AmeriServ as senior vice president – human resources, has led many successful fundraising efforts in the area over the past 20 years. This time, he said he’s simply responding to a need that arose in the community.

“I felt compelled to act when I heard about the reality of local young people falling behind in school work because they lacked access to computers or internet services,” he said.

In fact, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 9 million school children are facing difficulty completing assignments online. Reasons for not having home internet vary, but most families surveyed by NCES reported that they simply don’t need it. Many of these families can afford it and may choose to set up home internet during this pandemic. However, 34 percent reported not having internet because they were unable to afford it, 4 percent because they did not have a home computer, and 4 percent because an internet connection was not available in their area. This means at least 42 percent of children without home internet face barriers to connectivity.

This most recent focus is already making a difference and helping to insure that students who reside within the area do not become another statistic. Now that the network is in, kids are already using it to access their school assignments with Chromebooks from school—and that’s just the beginning of what the space can become.

“It’s exciting to be leading the initiative and sharing responsibilities with AmeriServ and the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies,” Babich added. “We will keep building on the progress we’ve seen, and we appreciate every person and organization who has offered to help local young people in this way.”

To make a secure online donation, visit cfalleghenies.org/connecting-local-kids.

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