Oak Hill Collaborative Provides Digital Help to Springfield Township

NEW MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — From those operating a family farming business to those needing digital banking, telehealth, and email, using a computer and having broadband connectivity are not optional these days.

But for about 200 residents in Springfield Township with no broadband or slow internet options, utilizing the internet is not always possible. And those who have never had the opportunity to learn about computers risk being left behind.

The Oak Hill Collaborative, Springfield Township Trustee Josh Wiery, Mahoning County Commissioners, and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments are hoping to take another step in helping those lacking access, computer skills, and even the computer itself to make the leap into the digital world.

Through Oak Hill Collaborative’s Digital Learning Center, township residents and others nearby will be able to receive free basic computer classes right in their neighborhood, at the Springfield Township Fire Station No. 21 on New Middletown Road. Starting Wednesday, July 10, the classes will be offered with one-hour sessions at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Sarah Russell, one of the Digital Navigators from the collaborative, said the first class—Laptop 101—will start with the basics, including just turning the device on. Other upcoming classes include Intro to Email on July 17 and Excel with Excel on July 24.

Additionally, Patrick Kerrigan, executive director of Oak Hill Collaborative, said those township residents who take five introductory classes will receive a free refurbished laptop or can purchase one for $100. Springfield Township trustees purchased 20 laptops for Oak Hill that will only be available to township residents, while additional laptops are available through the collaborative’s other programs for those who are not township residents.

“We want to do this in other places as well,” Kerrigan said. “We’ve been doing it in Youngstown and Trumbull County. This is our first thing outside of Youngstown… Springfield is the leader in doing this and we’re very appreciative of their support.”

Trustee Josh Wiery said the lack of internet and broadband services throughout the township means about 200 residences do not have access to proper upload and download speeds, so he has been working with the county commissioners and Eastgate to find solutions. He believes they are very close.

“Oak Hill stepping in to help those residents who maybe did not have broadband now learn their computer skills to be able to get on, that hook and the usability side of the broadband that is coming to them is the reason why this is incredible for us in Springfield. We appreciate Oak Hill 100% for everything they have done in the past for us and everything they are starting to do now.”

For many years, broadband has been difficult to obtain in the township, with the Ohio Turnpike dissecting it and creating an obstacle. Once the internet service is provided, Wiery said he is excited that residents will already have the knowledge to take advantage of it.

“I would hate to see that the close to 200 homes that are missing Broadband services or have weak or low Broadband services and then once we fix it, nobody uses it,” said Wiery, who has been working on the problem for nearly all of his three years on the board. “This was one huge step for us to say, you are being given the means to use the new tools that are available to them.”

Through the years, Kerrigan said the Digital Learning Center has developed dozens of classes, the majority of which are single-session classes. Once people learn the basics, more classes are available, including social media for small businesses, Photoshop, 3-D printing, Snapchat, Canva, and other programs.

Wiery notes that safety from “deception” on the computer is a big deal for township residents, knowing what risks they face and how to avoid them when navigating online.

“One of the reasons that people don’t want to go on computers is because of concern about safety, so if you can reassure them that if they do it carefully and correctly there is not going to be a problem, then you get more people who are interested in being on the internet,” Kerrigan said.

Additionally, Kerrigan said telehealth is growing, and he sees that as a significant benefit, especially for those aging and living in a rural region like Springfield Township. He points out that many deals, government benefits, and educational opportunities are also available only online.

“It’s very difficult to navigate if you don’t have it, so the people who don’t have internet access or don’t have a device or don’t know how to use it, they’re locked out of the modern world,” Kerrigan said.

Pictured at top: Announcing free, basic computer classes for Springfield Township residents starting Wednesday were (from left) township Trustee Josh Wiery and Oak Hill Collaborative Executive Director Patrick Kerrigan.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.