ALAMOSE– The following is a story of collaboration born during Rural Philanthropy Days 2019 in a discussion led by the San Luis Valley Community Resource Center. This discussion focused on the prioritization of needs in the valley, one of which was the importance of increasing broadband access for residents of the San Luis Valley.
Three years later, the result of this discussion is the formation of a coalition of individuals and non-profit organizations based in the San Luis Valley which, in association with AT&T Colorado, Human IT and Action22, an organization serving as the voice of public policy for 22 southern Colorado counties, led to the donation of 200 laptops to community members.
The laptops will be distributed to underserved students, their mentors, seniors, and those who need better access to digital resources throughout the San Luis Valley.
As Action22 CEO Sara Blackhurst tells the story, SLV Resource Development Group CEO Kevin Wilkins came to Blackhurst to represent the SLV Broadband Coalition Office, which serves as an advisory board to the SLVRDG. The mission of this committee, inherent in the 200 laptops that will be dispersed, was to ensure that all residents of the San Luis Valley have equitable access to opportunities to enjoy the benefits of broadband.
Blackhursts says Action22 is all about deliverables – what tangible, measurable results can her organization deliver to communities in need? His questions related to why the broadband currently available in the valley is not being used? The answer boiled down to several factors: lifestyle choices (those who choose not to interact with the Internet), those who really cannot afford to access the Internet or the devices needed to use the Internet, and those who have struggling with digital literacy and need more than a phone for what they need to do.
In what Blackhurst describes as a sign of the “really good energy” that has surrounded the whole company from the start, the next morning after being approached and discerning challenges, she received a phone call from Guillermo Lambarri, Director of External Affairs at AT&T Colorado.
Lambarri informed Blackhurst that he had two hundred computers which he was looking to donate to a community project.
Over the months that followed, and with the involvement of key individuals and CRC board member and AT&T’s Guillermo Lambarri, a team of “community champions” (as Blackhurst calls them ) was created to facilitate the delivery of laptops to the community.
These champions include State Rep. Donald Valdez, community advocate and former Costilla County Commissioner Lawrence Pacheco, Maria Kramer of the Alamosa Library, and Aaron Miltenberger, CEO of the Alamosa Boys & Girls Club.
People who need a laptop – or know someone who needs one – are encouraged to visit the website [email protected] . Once there, individuals will be referred to one of the champions – who will have the autonomy to disperse the laptops and then connect with the individual and facilitate the delivery of the laptops.
The devices to be delivered are Chromebooks, known to be easy to configure, and will come with one year of technical support. Additionally, according to Blackhurst, if it is discovered that additional laptops are needed, they can be accessed for a cost of $55 each through Human IT.
“People with access to broadband and computers are necessary for success,” Rep. Valdez said. “And people shouldn’t have to go places they wouldn’t usually go just to get an internet connection. This is a big step forward for the people of the San Luis Valley and I’m happy to be part of this project.
In a sign that this program is now an ongoing reality, the first five of 200 laptops were presented Thursday to Anika Velasquez with Kids Connection in Monte Vista. Upon receiving the laptops, Marquez said the devices will make a huge difference in the education and experience of his students. “They won’t need to use their phone or someone else’s phone to do research anymore.”