ellohay! west michigan is dedicated to making positive differences in the lives of underserved individuals within the West Michigan area through healthy, sustainable, meaningful, connections with technology.
Nerds can’t help but to find and connect with other nerds. We’re literally wired to communicate with each other (probably because we have the common interest of talking about all the cool and fun stuff we can do together).
Here in West Michigan, where our little group of nerds calls home, we noticed that there weren’t as many nerds as there were in richer, more educated, connected cities.
We also noticed that the people who could afford computers had trouble learning how to use and maintain them, let alone fix them. We also noticed that the people who could afford computers had trouble learning how to use and maintain them, let alone fix them.
Most disturbingly, we found that the nerds, working to help the non-nerds, were exhausted from fixing thier company’s and neighborhood’s computers, some were even wearing t-shirts and pins that read “No, I will not fix your computer.”
It seemed like something drastic needed to happen. A few things that we knew for sure: 1. There needed to be more and smarter nerds in this area 2. All people needed access to the tools reserved for the rich and educated 3. More people needed to know how to use and fix their own gadgets 4. We needed to communicate and help each other out more often
Granted, # 3 is a little selfish, but we needed a serious break from asking the question “Sir, is the computer actually on right now?” over, over and over again. Especially when the answer was usually “Oh, whoops, it’s not. Thanks for your help.”
Recently John Horrigan, the Associate Director for Research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project1, wrote: “Some 75% of Americans are internet users (66% with access from home) and 57% have broadband at home. That leaves 9% of American internet users with dial-up access at home and 25% of Americans without access at all. There are several reasons why adoption gaps exist:
• People can’t get broadband where they live. • Information technology is hard for them to use. • Modern gadgets and services aren’t relevant to them. • People can’t afford access (either broadband or dial-up).”
We also learned that many students in Grand Rapids were having trouble competing with their peers, one out of four kids were regularly going to bed hungry2, one out of five citizens have trouble reading or cannot read at all3, and many couldn’t even afford calculators4 to take state-required tests like the MEAP, or the tests that help people get into good colleges, the ACT and SAT.
We were officially tired of hearing things like “In December 2008, Michigan’s unemployment rate rose to 10.6 percent, the highest in the nation.”5 We knew we needed and deserved better.
Not only was it catch-up time for the non-nerds of West Michigan, but it was go-time. That doesn't mean that we can just start handing out computers willy-nilly, because as we all know, there are some aspects of connectivity and technology that can be troublesome. All those scary things that we (nerds) needed to learn about at one time or another–security, online safety, viruses, exposure–would need to be addressed as well.
Now determined to make ourselves the smartest, savviest, most connected region in all of Michigan, we put our heads together, rolled up our sleeves and planned (for an entire year, in fact) about the best way for all of this really incredible stuff to happen. We planned great programs, ways of connecting with community organizations, schools and corporations, with people of all ages, levels of digital literacy, special needs, shapes and sizes.
During our year of planning and research, we actually found out that a few others (“digital inclusion” groups in the UK6 and free wifi groups in San Francisco7, Chicago8, Atlanta9, and even Ann Arbor, Michigan10) had done something similar in their communities too. We even found computer-earning programs in Philadelphia11 and Portland12 that helped us create even stronger plans.
What started happening with the participants in with these other programs was really exciting. These formerly at-risk, non-nerds actually improved their grades in school, found jobs, got promotions and raises, connected with their neighbors, stayed in school, and actually raised their self-esteem13. Who knew that something that we (nerds) took for granted would bring such opportunity, joy, and drastic improvement in quality of life?
So, with a solid "business" model, a year’s worth of research under our belt, and the people and passion to back it up, we came up with an organization with programs that even the people who say that they are scared of computers will clamber to be a part of.
We are now actually a budding community, dedicated to making positive differences in the lives of underserved individuals through healthy, meaningful, and sustainable connections with technology.