Economic Development

Oak Hill Collaborative Bridges the Divide

By Patrick V. Kerrigan, executive director of the Oak Hill Collaborative.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The Oak Hill Collaborative is a nonprofit neighborhood revitalization organization on the south side of Youngstown that provides support services to individuals, businesses and institutions without government assistance.

Our agenda changes regularly. As a grassroots organization, we are responsive to the needs of the community and we are dependent on volunteers and committed stakeholders. We serve as a neighborhood beautification center, acquiring real estate, demolishing abandoned structures and maintaining properties up and down Oak Hill Avenue.

The collaborative is also a community organizing force, providing meeting space and office equipment, promotional support, mentoring and leadership, and other resources to community groups and initiatives. It also is a small-business incubator, helping startups in a socio-economically distressed area get off the ground with office space and equipment as well as advice on marketing, social media, accounting, law, business practices and other knowledge necessary to succeed in business.

The key to our success is the synergy of common goals and initiatives among our participants and partners. For instance, the Oak Hill Collaborative Makerspace is a cutting-edge technological center, a community of inventors, hackers, students and small businesses. The Makerspace provides free services, education and access to computer equipment, 3-D printing, robotics, drones and other sophisticated technologies.

A new focus in 2017 and going forward this year, is our “Digital Inclusion Initiative,” which bridges the well-documented digital divide that threatens to create further inequalities and lack of opportunity. In collaboration with community partners such as the Western Reserve Port Authority, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Youngstown State University, the United Way, Youngstown City Schools and others, as well as national partners such as Connected Nation and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, we conducted a comprehensive survey of the needs, perceptions and preferences of Mahoning County residents, which will inform our future plans.

Bridging the digital divide requires an increase in internet broadband capacity – both in terms of coverage and download speeds, the availability of more economical internet service, access to hardware and software, and, most important, improved computer skills education, from basic digital literacy to more sophisticated applications.

Many individuals on the “good side” of the divide cannot appreciate how real these limitations are and how they impact those on the “wrong side,” consigning them to second-class status, in some cases for generations. Internet access affects a wide spectrum of life functions including education and job training, employment applications, health care, government benefits, banking, shopping and entertainment. People without adequate access find it difficult, if not impossible, to fully participate in society’s benefits.

Our signature program is our “raspberry pi computer build” where we teach students (some as young as the fourth grade) to assemble and program their own computers using a small raspberry pi device, which is a small single-board computer, and all necessary components. We have taught 10 classes, and currently are working in five Youngstown schools. We hope next year to teach basic digital literacy to students and adults as well as other internet or computer-related classes.

Our goal for 2018 is to continue to be a community champion for improved internet access, providing education, equipment, expertise and community leadership as well as a small-business incubator, a makerspace, and a neighborhood revitalization center.

Editor’s Note: This story was published in The Business Journal’s Growth Report 2018. The 144-page edition features growth reports from more than 200 local businesses and organizations. It was published this week. If you are not a subscriber, CLICK HERE to purchase a copy or call Eileen Lovell at 330 744 5023 Ext. 1008.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.