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Rescue funds used to broaden internet access

YOUNGSTOWN — Patrick Kerrigan, executive director of the nonprofit Oakhill Collaborative, told the Mahoning County commissioners recently about work the organization plans with the $110,000 in American Rescue Plan funds the commissioners allocated to it in July.

Kerrigan, a former municipal court judge, said the funds will be used to increase digital awareness and skills among Mahoning County residents.

“There are a lot of ways we are doing that,” he said. Ninety-eight percent of homes in Youngstown have access to high-speed internet, but not everyone knows how to use it, he said.

“So many things — school, tele-health, job interviews, government benefits — all are easier to do if you know how to use your phone, your computer. Most of us in this room are not as good as we would like to be,” he said.

“Certainly, people — oftentimes poor people — don’t have the training or the background, so our mission at the Oakhill Collaborative is to help in all of those ways,” he said. “We’re partners with (the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments) to help get broadband to the greater region.”

One program the collaborative is involved with is one in which income-qualified people can save $50 per month on the cost of internet.

“That’s a tremendous benefit,” he said. “If you are 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or receive SNAP benefits or anyone in the home qualifies for reduced-price lunches. Also qualifying are people who have received or receive a federal Pell grant.

“So, if you have $20 internet, a cheap plan, it’s free. If you have a $69 plan, which is 100 megabytes per second, which is really fast, it’s $19 per month.”

He said the discount is good through the pandemic is offered as part of the federal government’s pandemic relief package. It can be used with any internet service provider by any resident of Youngstown or Mahoning County who qualifies.

The number to call is 330-406-0721. The Oakhill Collaborative will help residents sign up for the benefit.

“We view ourselves as navigators. Just like it’s hard for you to figure out how to work your internet, we can help you with that,” Kerrigan said. “Just on this program we have to work with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and your internet service provider,” he said.

“We do that for you. Free of charge,” he said.

The Oakhill Collaborative also teaches computer classes.

“We are not trying to teach people to be an expert. We teach you how to get on the internet, to be comfortable,” he said. “We just taught a class last week that was Bible apps (computer programs). We’re getting people like that in,” he said.

“Maybe they are going to download recipes. Next week we’re going to have a class on telehealth,” he said. “That’s what this money is going to go for is to expand our program. We’re going to do it on a full-time basis.” Another class will be social media for small businesses.

The collaborative has a 15-computer lab. “We have a digital recording studio. It’s all free of charge,” he said. “You can come in and

do podcasts and that sort of thing,” he said.

erunyan@vindy.com

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