Pittsboro, NC – The Institute for Emerging Issues (IEI) at NC State University recently announced its second round of grant recipients for Building a New Digital Economy in NC (BAND-NC). Chatham County was selected as one of the additional ten North Carolina counties to receive a $5,000 grant to help bridge the digital divide in their communities.
BAND-NC is a grant program designed to increase the number of people with the internet in their homes, with the goal of making the state “first in digital inclusion.” The effort is a partnership with the NC Broadband Infrastructure Office (BIO), the John M. Belk Endowment, the Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation, Roanoke Electric Cooperative, the North Carolina Electric Cooperatives, and the Duke Energy Foundation.
The Chatham County Council on Aging is the recipient of the $5,000 grant in Chatham County. The Council will use the grant for a pilot project whereby it will purchase computer tablets and subsidized internet service for 15 seniors currently lacking access to the internet in their homes. The Council will then arrange for necessary training and support to enable the seniors to use these tablets and will measure their engagement and the impact of this access.
“This pilot program will help us further identify what challenges exist in terms of broadband internet access, technology skills and engagement to allow us to build a plan to expand access for many more residents in the coming years. The project will immediately help some of our most isolated residents regain access to their Senior Center community, learn new skills, and combat loneliness,” shared Dennis Streets, director of the Council.
This is just one more way that the Council is seeking to assist Chatham County seniors and their families, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. Out of ongoing concern for the health and safety of seniors, the Council on Aging has decided to continue the closure of its two centers to in-facility programming through December 2020. At that point, it will reassess the status of COVID-19 and follow public health recommendations.
“We must find ways to bridge the digital divide for our senior residents, because as they stay at home and limit their engagement with the public, and as their family members keep a distance, their world grows smaller. Seniors, particularly those who live alone, are at the greatest risk of social isolation and loneliness, and research has demonstrated that loneliness is one of the single largest social determinants of health, increasing risks of heart disease, dementia and depression,” noted Streets.
A spring phone survey of 69 participants in the Council’s congregate meals program revealed that only 19 had email addresses and less than a third had internet-ready devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets or computers.
Maggie Woods, Policy and Program Manager at the Institute for Emerging Issues, credited the Council as submitting “one of the strongest applications and we are excited to see how this project develops.”
The importance of addressing the digital divide is especially important as Chatham County is not only home to a diverse, but an aging population. Already, a third of all Chatham residents are age 60 or older. In the next two decades, Chatham’s population is expected to grow by 46%, but the population over 60 is expected to increase by 83%, with those over 85 by 208%.
“Building our capacity as an organization to provide engaging virtual programming and technology training while also improving access and technology skills for seniors will ensure we continue to expand our reach in the county and serve those most in need,” concluded Streets.
For information about the work of the Chatham County Council on Aging, call its Eastern Center in Pittsboro at 919-542-4512 or its Western Center, 919-742-3975. Its website is www.chathamcoa.org.