Editor’s note: The following is the first in a series of stories focused on digital inclusion efforts in Kansas City, and is presented by Google Fiber.
Ron Carr’s retirement made him restless, he shared. Wanting to be a valuable player in Kansas City’s economy once again, Carr enrolled in Goodwill’s Digital Skills Training program.
“With the way technology is changing every year, I didn’t want to go back in[to the workforce] without the knowledge that I needed to get in there,” the 65-year-old Jackson County resident said. “That was the key for me getting my tools sharpened.”
Individuals of all ages participate in Goodwill’s Digital Skills Training program — a locally-driven effort that seeks to close the digital divide in Kansas City — said Funmi Popoola, president and CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas, noting that a majority of participants are above the age of 18.
And such services do more than fill a community need gap, he added. As with Carr’s experience, they also give a new sense of personal fulfillment to those involved, said Popoola.
“Goodwill’s mission is to provide that wrap-around service for our community,” he said. “By helping upskill them or train them for work, they can feel prepared for meaningful opportunities.”
Click here to explore Goodwill’s Artemis Institute, focusing on launching careers in tech and manufacturing industries.
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The Digital Skills Training program provides people with a refurbished computer and teaches them the skills on how to use it, Popoola explained. Courses are offered year-round, and individuals who are interested in taking either virtual or in-person classes at Goodwill’s Mission Support Center in the East Crossroads Arts District may sign up by simply completing an online registration form, he continued.
“We don’t require anything from you,” Popoola said. “It’s a free course we offer. We just ask that you be open to learning and understanding that it is important to give yourself grace. For many people, technology is not a place of comfort — it’s a first-time engagement.”
Click here to sign up for Goodwill’s Digital Skills Training program.
Through the online registration, Goodwill’s professionals can assess a person’s skill level and goals and assign them to the appropriate courses. Along with the Digital Skills Training program, Goodwill offers a Bridge to Technology program through its Artemis Institute that explores more advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and software development.
“After participants go through our initial training of the basics of computers, some want to go on to learn more skills,” Popoola said. “The digital training eases them into it, and we’re seeing participants go on to feel more confident putting in applications for jobs, secure jobs and stay with them. It’s a new sense of fulfillment.”
Goodwill’s Digital Skills program evolved as a result of the pandemic’s impact on communities who did not have access to the needed tools and resources, Popoola said.
“We saw the increased disparity between those who have access and those who do not; I think about all of the kids who could not do school online because they did not have access — it was eye opening,” Popoola recalled. “It became very critical for us that we provided avenues for folks to come in, learn and secure access. We will continue to see how we can bridge that gap.”
A new age
Halfway through the 10-class Digital Skills program, Carr has become more confident with his computer and phone, he said, noting that tasks that once made him nervous — such as saving information to iCloud — are becoming second nature.
He’s most excited to learn more about Excel and PowerPoint, he shared.
“If someone asks me to figure out percentages in Excel or make a presentation in PowerPoint, I want to have that knowledge to my advantage,” Carr said. “With that understanding, I can also ask better questions, instead of being stressed about not knowing what I am doing.”
For Kansas Citians like himself who are interested in staying up to date with technology, Carr encouraged them to take advantage of Goodwill’s offerings.
“Technology is growing so much that you pretty much have to stay on top of it; it’s not going away,” Carr said. “… Even with my age, I am excited to go back into the workforce and give just as much as I did before I left and even more with this training. 65 is not an old age anymore — it is the new 45!”
Rural vs urban core
Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas serves a diverse population, Popoola said. When it comes to who needs access to tech resources and education, it is not a matter of rural versus urban, he said; it is everyone.
“The shocking part of the need is that it spreads across,” Popoola said. “It’s a need in the urban core; it’s a need in rural communities. It’s not one or the other. Our mission is to reach out to all of the pockets where the need exists.”
In order to meet individuals’ at-times far-flung needs, Goodwill operates a mobile workforce unit equipped with 10 computers, Wi-Fi and presentation screens to connect people to jobs, training and other online resources, Popoola said.
“It’s a former RV converted to a class on wheels,” he noted. “We’re talking about technology as a barrier for many and intimate access is an example. That is why we feel compelled to take our resources and meet people where they are at.”
Organizations and communities have utilized Goodwill’s mobile workforce unit for hiring events, as well as digital skills training.
To request Goodwill’s mobile workforce unit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations fund programs
About 88 cents of every dollar in a sale at Goodwill goes back to funding its mission of connecting with the community, Popoola said.
“What many people don’t know about Goodwill is that it is so much more than a thrift store,” he said. “When you bring in that gently used sweater or your gently used shoes to any of our donation centers, it goes through a life cycle. … Those funds allow us to address the needs and the gaps we see within our communities.”
Funds from sales are allocated to Goodwill’s programs such as the Digital Skills Training and Bridge to Technology.
As Goodwill of Western Missouri & Eastern Kansas continues to open more stores, its team will ensure that each new store has a resource center, Popoola said.
“It will be staffed to provide access, and Digital Literacy will definitely be one of the programs we offer at the store,” Popoola said, noting that this will bring more access and awareness to Goodwill’s resources. “We have a couple of stores in the books for this year, and every one of them will have a resource center.”
Popoola’s professional journey with Goodwill started in 2017 as the vice president of operations at Seattle Goodwill Industries. He does not plan on leaving anytime soon, he shared.
“It’s just the most fulfilling thing you can do, and you see the impact right away,” said Popoola, who immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in 2002 to attend Wichita State University. “… When I moved, I tried to assimilate and settle into the United States, but it was not the easiest transition in terms of culture, environment and lifestyle. Having a mission-based nonprofit like Goodwill helped me assimilate quicker, so that is what drives my passion for connecting with our community. That is where my heart is.”
Several other local organizations are working to close the digital divide. A handful include:
- PCs for People provides refurbished computers to eligible customers for affordable prices. PCs for People also provides low-cost high-speed internet solutions. Through computers, internet, digital skills training, and technical support, PCs for People works to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to reach their full potential through digital technology.
- Linwood YMCA’s Teen Tech Center is a fun, interactive learning space where youth in grades 5-12 can develop workforce skills and college readiness through hands-on activities to explore their interests in programming, coding, esports and gaming proficiency, music production and design.
- Literacy KC believes in the multifaceted nature of literacy, including digital literacy. Their Digital Literacy classes are open to the public who are 16 plus and range in focus from learning the basics of computers to using Google applications, setting up an email, filling out online forms and more.
- KC Digital Drive launched the “KC Goes Tech” microgrant program in July 2022 to help expand the ability of community organizations to include digital training in their offerings and to network more effectively with existing digital literacy providers.
- The Kansas City Public Library is dedicated to making digital equity available to its patrons by providing internet access computers at each of our locations and by offering a variety of trainings for those who wish to learn more about using technology in their everyday lives.
This series is possible thanks to Google Fiber.