A Story of Digital Migrants
Everyday in Austin, Ed wakes up from the creek and rides 3 buses, hauling all of his belongings, to reach the nearest computer. Scott hops in a shared-ride service for people with disabilities to make his iPad Basics class. Kelvin treks from his bus stop to a public access computer lab, using only a walker, to access the internet for career options in IT. These three men have one shared experience: a drive for higher learning on limited resources. They are part of the many who wake up every day and face the same colossal divide between themselves and the greater digital world, hoping they will be welcomed, seen, and heard.
Austin Free-Net has been leading the charge in bridging this digital equity gap for the most marginalized in Austin for over 25 years. Back then we knew the post-internet world would bring new needs; specifically with communities, connections, and social services all migrating to the web. Internet and computer access would be determined by resources, leaving people behind with no means of finding and applying for resources themselves. It was the world then and still is today - we’re changing that.
What We’re About
Austin Free-Net enables Austinites, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, to find solutions in their daily lives and struggles, through Digital Literacy Training, Computer Lab Services, and IT Workforce Development & Certification services ($6500/person value) - all absolutely FREE. We provide the digital literacy and technological access needed to impact the motivations, interests, and goals of people left behind in the Information Age. AFN delivers modular instruction for students to master technology and workplace foundations in areas such as Computer, Internet, iPad, and Smartphone Basics, and Microsoft Office Suite.
Who We Work With
AFN works alongside and has a long-standing relationship with the City of Austin - beginning as contracted providers of free internet access to Austin Public Libraries in 1995 and we’ve been providing digital learning opportunities in the Austin community ever since. Our efforts have been noticed and supported by sponsors like Dell, Google Fiber, IBM, Austin Community College, Texas Workforce Commission, Spectrum, Mozilla, and many more.
We Create Digital Equity
We work and care for everyone in the Austin community, including seniors, people experiencing homelessness, non-English speakers, migrants, people with disabilities and impairments, formerly incarcerated individuals, illiterate and uneducated individuals, gentrified and displaced individuals, low-income individuals and families, and other underserved community members. These are the faces we meet and these are the people we serve.
We deploy over 70 hours of digital literacy training (in 3 different languages) per week, inside of 4 public access labs and 18 sites in the Austin area. Each year we serve over 5,000 people, and see anywhere from 700-1200 logins/month inside our public access computer labs, providing over 3,500 hours of hands-on training. Many of these folks are recurring visitors to AFN’s labs and classes - eventually becoming part of our family.
How You Can Help
Right now our clients are in need of several resources in order to help fulfill their digital needs. The cost of providing 1 person with 1 hour of digital training is $100. This cost covers the training, curriculum development, support, supplies, travel, and all operational expenses. If you’d like to be part of the AFN family, we’d love to have you. Any gift is welcome, and here are the tiers of giving we recommend:
$50 supports one half hour of digital literacy training to one student
$100 supports one full hour of digital literacy training to one student
$200 supports digital literacy training for one student/week
$500 supports digital literacy training for one workshop/week
$1000 supports a small classroom of 5 students or more with digital literacy training/week
$5000 supports 5 classrooms with digital literacy training/week.
Metaphysical learners affiliated with corporations or professional organizations will receive a 1-day training session tailored to their staff’s needs, held at our East Austin location, and will have their logo posted as official sponsors on our website.
Programs and Curriculum
Operational costs are a critical empowerment to any successful organization. Current programs and classes occur after hours of program development. Curriculum is created with the intent of meeting the specific needs of each site we serve. Each new program requires revisions and implementation of new content and standards to ensure clients receive quality, up-to-date instruction.
Instruction and Transportation
We promise reliable instruction to our students and that means being able to hire and pay the professional instructors needed to deliver on that promise. We offer on-site instruction in East Austin and off-site instruction for clients unable to travel and in need of special programming. This means paying for teachers and the costs to get them to their students.
Our supplies provide the grease to our engines. Although we’ve made great strides in adopting paperless workflows, many of our clients rely on physical copies of their information due to limited knowledge and access to tech. One ream of paper can provide 20 resumes, 20 housing applications, 20 food assistance applications, 20 medical care applications, 20 paycheck stubs, 20 bus schedules and routes, 10 job applications, 10 higher education applications, 10 bill confirmations, and 10 legal forms. Our paper goes on to deliver the most essential needs for our clients. Our homebase is also in need of expendable office supplies in order to operate, such as rubber bands, paperclips, pens, pencils, highlighters, notepads, folders, binders, scissors, clipboards, staples, and tape.
We are eternally grateful for the desktop computers, monitors, laptops, printers, and peripherals donated to our cause over the years. Unfortunately, much of our tech has been rendered obsolete, and we are in need of new equipment able to process current and intensive operating systems and applications. Our students learn better when their machines are up to date and operating seamlessly. Part of our mission is proving to them they are worth the investment.
Our Struggle, Our Fight
We’ve seen firsthand the effects of what an under-resourced community experiences on a daily basis. Many of our staff members share the same personal, untold stories of survival. Everyday in Austin, we see those struggling with severe financial need, food insecurity, housing insecurity, healthcare insecurity - who are unable to receive the social services they so desperately need due to a lack of digital literacy and technological access. A lack of education, severe disabilities, obstructive bureaucracy, hopelessness, and fatigue all create barriers to learning. We have made great strides in tackling these hard issues through technology and social magic, and with your help, we know we will make even greater strides in serving Austin’s residents with the development, love, and dignity they deserve.
Your Donation, Our Thanks
The efforts we make for our students last a lifetime. We receive funding from our partners, which enables us to continue providing the learning, but it is your generous donations that will keep us operating. With the support of our global family, we will continue to serve our students as stewards of learning. We’re so proud of the work we do, we invite you to come by our office, tour the public access lab, and see a classroom in action. We want you to see that your donations are money well-spent. Every dollar gives the gift no price can pay - increased knowledge, new hope, and improved quality of life. For that, we are forever grateful. Our students mean the world to us because we see ourselves in each of them. We know that you will too.
Further the Cause
Share this GoFundMe on Facebook, give us a shout-out, and/or tag someone you know who struggles with computers or technology. Let them know they’re not alone and we’d love to work with them.
Find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/austinfreenet/
Thank you for standing with Austin Free-Net and helping bridge the divide between people and technology.