Eastgate Contributes $50K to Help Oak Hill Bridge Digital Divide

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A $50,000 contribution from Eastgate Regional Council of Governments will help the Oak Hill Collaborative bridge the digital divide for Mahoning and Trumbull county residents.

The money will be used to establish two digital learning centers in each county.

James Kinnick, Eastgate executive director, said Eastgate was one of the recipients of GM reinvestment funds two years ago and it has been a good steward of the money.

“We’ve recognized good opportunities to leverage that money to make a difference in our communities – exactly [how] GM community reinvestment funds were asked to be utilized,” he said. “Investing in Oak Hill Collaborative is certainly another step in helping our communities.”

Through the funding, Oak Hill will deploy digital navigators in the communities to improve digital literacy with equipment, education and resources.

Executive Director Patrick V. Kerrigan said Oak Hill started about 10 years ago as a neighborhood revitalization center.

“Over the period of time we’ve recognized a great need in our community is to increase digital connectivity,” he said. 

The money from Eastgate will help.

“There’s kind of a broadband aspect of it, which is infrastructure with towers and conduit and all of this,” Kerrigan said. “That’s in the wheelhouse of Eastgate, and they do it very well. In this particular area, there has to be the people side. That’s the inclusion and the equity side. That’s what we do. I think we’re a great partnership because we can do those things together.”

Oak Hill already operates two digital learning centers, one in Youngstown and one in Warren. The funding will allow two more in each county. The locations haven’t been finalized and could include mobile sites.

Oak Hill provides basic education, teaching people how to turn on a computer and access the internet. It is also working on a new project in Trumbull County with the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, providing technical training in Oak Hill computer labs.

“We really think this is one step, and now we can start to connect that,” Kerrigan said. 

“We’re very thankful for the support that we have,” he said.

Steve Kristan, Eastgate broadband coordinator, relayed the story about a senior citizen living on the North Side who had to retire after having a stroke. She’s one of many people not connected digitally, and “this world is leaving them behind,” he said.

The woman attended a series of workshops at Oak Hill and earned a free laptop. That enabled her to use the information she learned at the workshops at home. 

The digital learning centers at various locations enable Oak Hill to tailor training to the needs of a particular area.

“The key to this is the digital navigator approach,” Kristan said. “Digital navigator is, you sit down one-on-one with them and figure out what they need and how they can best accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Eastgate conducted a broadband feasibility study of the two counties in 2021. It identified opportunities to improve internet access in the counties it serves, and one of its recommendations was digital learning centers.

Besides Eastgate, other partners in the project are the city of Warren, the Trumbull Community Action Partnership, Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority, Warren-Trumbull Library, Mahoning and Trumbull county commissioners, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, BroadbandOhio, Connect Your Community and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

“This is just another opportunity to bring in regional partners and to assist people that lack that resource,” Kinnick said.

Pictured at top: Steve Kristan, broadband coordinator at Eastgate Regional Council of Governments; James Kinnick, Eastgate executive director; Patrick Kerrigan, executive director of Oak Hill Collaborative; and Mark Ragozine, economic development project manager at Eastgate.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.