A new computer lab in Northeast Kansas City hopes to serve as a tech oasis in a digital desert among low-income households.
Rachel Hack Merlo, Google community impact manager, has worked with the Housing Authority of Kansas City to bring technology and Internet closer to the residents of Chouteau Court. She said that the nearest library with Internet access is a bus-ride away from local residents. After the installation of the computer lab, Internet access is now a block away.
The lab not only offers Internet to the culturally diverse, low-income residents of Chouteau Court, it also demonstrates local progress to close the digital divide in Kansas City, Hack Merlo said.
“We want to expose folks to the power of the Internet and create an interest for being online,” Hack Merlo said. “Kansas City is so uniquely aware and uniquely positioned to try some really cool things here. Not just because of gigabit connectivity, but because of the awareness that we have here and the passion that we have here.”
The computer lab is complete with eight Chromebooks that patrons can use to surf the Web or to take occasional computer courses. Hack Merlo said Google plans to continue to work with the Housing Authority in order to bring similar labs and services to other areas of Kansas City.
As part of its other local philanthropic efforts, Google also sponsors a digital inclusion fund and digital inclusion fellowship in which they partner with local non-profits. Merlo admits that Google isn’t the expert in closing the divide, so they work closely with non-profits — such as the Full Employment Council and Literacy KC — that know the communities lacking Internet access.