Non-profit throws digital lifeline to KCK apartment complex

Christmas came early for the families of Rosedale Ridge. It arrived in the form of technology: free Internet access, thanks to the ingenuity of the non-profit Connecting For Good. Rosedale Ridge is a low-income housing complex in Kansas City, Kan., tucked away in inconvenient ways. The residents are nearly two miles from a bus stop and five miles from a grocery store. Manage that without a reliable car. On Friday morning, the approximately 400 residents (more than half children under 12) gained broadband access. “If connectivity equals opportunity, somebody has to make sure that people have a chance,” said Michael Liimatta, president of Connecting for Good. The non-profit bought bandwidth wholesale and rigged up wi-fi hotspots around the complex by broadcasting from a downtown datacenter on the Missouri side. Within the first 24 hours of service, 30 people had begun using it. In a two-hour introductory coffee session Friday, 20 people signed up for digital literacy classes and agreed to pay $50 to get a refurbished computer. One mother said she would use the access to earn her G.E.D. She has an idea for a business, but knows the equivalency degree is her first step. Others know it will make it easier to fill out job applications online. Waiting your turn at a computer at a public library was the option before. Internet access also has money-saving features. Consider costly necessities like diapers for a single mother. Sometimes they are cheaper online, especially if transportation is problematic. If Liimatta has a mantra it is this: “Education is the number one thing that lifts people out of poverty.” His addendum to that truth is that in this era, education is linked to internet savvy and online access. Rosedale Ridge is in the Kansas City, Kan., School District, which has made digital literacy a focus, providing high school students with laptops. The KC Urban Youth Center, which offers after-school programming for Rosedale Ridge, surveyed and found one child who had Internet access at their apartment. One. When children leave school, district equipment becomes useless unless they can find somewhere that is a wi-fi hotspot. Now, that place is home. The plan is to work with housing authorities and other Section 8 property owners to expand the project on both sides of the state line. Connecting for Good is also opening an office at 1622 Westport Road, linking to the area’s status as the first to have Google’s high-speed fiber. They consider themselves a startup. Aiding people who are digitally marginalized is their motivation. And that makes for a fantastic business plan for 2013.