(This article includes excerpts taken from an article written by Fred Speer and published in Forbes on October 28, 2013.)
Turn back the clock a few years.
Jesse Guzman—who dropped out of school at age 14—was facing a prison sentence when a judge gave him one last chance. He could sign up for a gang prevention program in Riverside, Calif.—or else.
Jesse joined the program, hit the re-set button on his education, and pursued a longstanding interest in computers and technology. And now he’s heading up a groundbreaking digital inclusion initiative that provides free computers, technical training and Internet access to low-income people in Riverside.
“I don’t see any limit to where I can go.” — Jesse Guzman, Digital Inclusion Program, Riverside, Calif.
“This program has really given my life new meaning,” Jesse said. “I’ve grown a tremendous amount. I’m really a completely different person. Now I don’t see any limit to where I can go.”
A Pioneering Program From One of the World’s Smartest Cities In 2005, civic leaders in this historic Southern California community launched a non-profit organization called SmartRiverside to help low-income and disadvantaged residents overcome the “digital divide.”
It’s a huge problem. In a tech-driven world that prizes computer skills and Internet access, about 100 million people in the U.S. do not have an online connection. And about 30,000 of them live in Riverside.
That’s why SmartRiverside launched its innovative Digital Inclusion Program.
Qualified low-income residents get everything they need to start surfing: computers, software, modems that connect them to the city’s free Wi-Fi network, and ongoing HelpDesk support.
It’s all completely free, though program participants first have to complete eight hours of classroom training in a SmartRiverside-equipped computer lab.
Here’s another impressive feature of the program. Staff members collect up to 20,000 pounds of e-waste every month. Components are used to refurbish donated computers. The rest is recycled.
Not only does the collection effort contribute to the city’s green initiatives, it pays for about 25% of the Digital Inclusion Program’s annual operating costs. The remainder of the budget comes from fund-raising, sponsorships and donations. So the entire program is self-sustaining.
“It’s a national best practice,” said Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey. “I think it’s the best in the country.” A true example of using technology to unify the city.
Added Jesse, “every major city should have a program like this.”
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