Creating Equal Opportunity Through Digital Access

St. Nicks Alliance is helping Brooklyn residents living in affordable housing navigate the COVID-19 pandemic

As remote employment has become the norm for many people since the COVID-19 outbreak, adequate digital access has become an imperative — with more than half of Americans adults seeing the internet as essential during the pandemic

In addition to allowing people to work-from-home, the internet has enabled online learning for students, access to news and resources surrounding COVID-19 and the opportunity to connect with friends, family and colleagues.

That shift has limited opportunities for people facing the digital divide — the gap between those who do or do not have access to technology – which may hinder their ability to work, learn or access resources during the pandemic. 

Online access has been especially important for students during the pandemic as roughly one-in-five parents with homebound school children say it is likely their children will not be able complete their schoolwork because they do not have access to a computer or reliable internet connection. 

The digital divide has also disproportionately impacted communities of color compared to white families, as 79% of white households have broadband internet access compared to 66% of Black households and 61% of Latinx households.

To address that inequity, Capital One and St. Nicks Alliance — a nonprofit community development organization whose residents are 54% Latinx and 31% Black — are working together to bring digital access to low-to-moderate income people in Brooklyn, New York.

Creating a Level Playing Field

Capital One will help St. Nicks Alliance equip 1,700 households with affordable internet access and laptops on loan through the fall and spring school semesters. This funding will also enable St. Nicks Alliance to embark on a multi-year initiative aimed at increasing both access and training.

“It’s hardly possible to overstate the importance of digital access at this moment in our history,” says Mariadele Priest, a Senior Director on Capital One’s Community Impact & Investment team. “The affordable internet access and laptops that St. Nicks Alliance will distribute to its residents are lifelines to education and other critical services.”

The two organizations will build upon their decade-long relationship as Capital One recently provided grant support of $500,000 to help St. Nicks Alliance offer digital access to its residents. That support comes as part of Capital One’s initial $200 million, multi-year commitment to advance socioeconomic mobility through the Capital One Impact Initiative

Launched in October 2020, the Capital One Impact Initiative seeks to create a world where everyone has an equal opportunity to prosper through advocating for an inclusive society, building thriving communities and creating financial tools that enrich lives.

St. Nicks Alliance will use this funding to launch a two-year initiative focused on ensuring physical access to technology and training residents to connect with digital services. 

It will ensure that residents have access to cable broadband or high-quality wireless access at little-to-no cost. This assistance will also enable the nonprofit to offer a lending library of laptops to private households that are not equipped with digital access.

“We’ve been working in a targeted, strategic way to create the proper framework so that the families we assist can equip themselves with the tools needed to thrive in the 21st century,” says Frank Lang, Director of Housing at St. Nicks Alliance. 

St. Nicks Alliance residents will also be trained on how to access educational services and employment opportunities, improve communication with family members, protect their personal information and learn how to access online banking through Capital One’s Ready, Set, Bank program. 

“Capital One’s grant support to St. Nicks Alliance wasn’t just an investment, it was a commitment that they’re sticking with us as we face the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lang says.

Built To Last 

St. Nicks Alliance has created more than 2,600 units of housing to date and that grant will help it assist residents in navigating the rising cost of rent in Brooklyn that has come, in part, as a result of gentrification in the borough. 

Assisting more than 17,000 people each year, St. Nicks Alliance strives to equip its adult residents with reliable internet access and devices to apply for jobs and work remotely. 

Digital access will enable more school-aged residents to attend class virtually and prevent students from falling behind those that have had online access throughout the pandemic.

“Many of the students we support have lost nine months of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic because of inadequate digital access,” says Michael Rochford, Executive Director at St. Nicks Alliance. “Now we’re working to get those students back onto a level playing and ensure that they have sufficient access to online services and devices in 2021.” 

Additionally, St. Nicks Alliance offers support to more than 600 older adult residents — many of whom do not speak English fluently. They will receive support to access different language applications on their devices and find resources for government benefits and mental health programs. 

Capital One’s assistance in providing that digital access comes in addition to other initiatives that it funds to help close the digital divide, such as its Capital One Digital Access (CODA) program. CODA includes funding for internet service, facilitates the donation of devices such as Chromebooks and tablets and supports training programs to help residents of all ages effectively connect with online resources.

“Partnering with an organization like St. Nicks Alliance allows Capital One to maximize the impact of our work,” says Priest. “We’re grateful that our long-standing relationship will help increase digital access and create a more level playing field.”

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