If there is any good news to come from the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be in the form of uncovering areas of need—such as internet access for students—that may have previously been overlooked. Essex County Community Foundation has been working to bring these issues into focus.
The Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer Stratton Lloyd, a guest recently on WHAV’s morning program, explains a part of the organization’s mission is “community leadership work.”
“This where we tackle some of the biggest problems across the county with philanthropic money, both from our foundation and other resources. We try to inspire collaboration and through that collaboration really tackle some of these really big issues with, what we call systemic solutions, really get into the system issues that are impacting some of these issues, and really get into the root cause of some of those challenges to have more of a long term, sort of, population level change,” he explained.
One issue uncovered by the pandemic is “computer access.” ECCF conducted a study with the help of Tufts University and discovered one in five households in Essex County lacked a basic computer and approximately 60,000 households do not have secure broadband internet.
“In Haverhill, specifically, and we actually shared some of this data with your leadership, is they’re thinking about sort of how they tackle some of these issues as well as in the public schools—we were actually talking to the Haverhill Public Schools technology group—is that like it does across the county, it really impacts lower income residents more substantially. It has a larger bent towards impacting Latino residents and seniors, and I think one of the areas of particular focus for Haverhill is the impact for children. In all those areas, low income, Latinos, children and seniors, Haverhill is below the county average,” Lloyd added.
The Haverhill City Council—led by Councilor John A. Michitson, embraced the study’s finding at the end of last month. Members voted to commit $20,000 to investigate the feasibility of bringing high quality internet access to all corners of the city. Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua backed the idea, saying, now is an excellent time to move ahead with internet projects as the state has announced it will be make money available through the Economic Development Administration. (See separate WHAV News story.)
The entire “Digital Divide” study is available at ECCF.org, and includes statistics for each city and town in Essex County.