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LISC Expands Toolbox for Digital Learning

In today’s world, where job applications are submitted online and neighborhood news arrives via computers and mobile apps, having access to the internet is no longer an option. It’s a necessity.

To celebrate Digital Learning Day on Feb. 5 and to support the re-launch in Chicago of the neighborhood information service EveryBlock, LISC is rolling out an expanded suite of tools and trainings to help residents get connected.

FamilyNet Centers in 12 neighborhoods offer computer trainings and hands-on assistance.

Gordon Walek

Full-time digital literacy trainers are now on staff at 12 FamilyNet Centers around the city, offering a range of coursework from basic computing and internet usage to advanced training in office software. The free trainings and open computer labs will help about 1,000 residents per month get online to fill out job applications, research community issues, participate in social networking and connect to government services.

The Englewood FamilyNet Center at Kennedy King College, for instance, offers a full slate of digital classes and one-on-one assistance. On Digital Learning Day, it will host live webcasts and student debates.

“We’re excited to expand our reach in this area because it is so critical to the local economy,” said Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago, which is channeling more than $1.1 million into the work. “In today’s world, internet access and digital skills are simply essential to doing a child’s homework, finding a job, and accessing community news and information.”

Since the relaunch of EveryBlock on Jan. 23, hundreds of residents in LISC-served neighborhoods have registered on the site to receive news, data and commentary sorted by community or ZIP code (see Logan Square neighbor activity). EveryBlock distributes informations from LISC-supported news portals in Pilsen, Humboldt Park and other neighborhoods, and serves as an information outlet for community groups including Residents Association of Greater Englewood.

Multiple tech programs

LISC has been supporting digital training and online access for years, helping neighborhoods build websites and portals, supporting technical trainings, and promoting use of online data and information streams.

LISC’s expanded digital programs will reach neighborhood residents through local partnerships, including LISC’s network of Centers for Working Families, which have on-site computer labs called FamilyNet Centers. The programs build on the methods developed by LISC’s Smart Communities demonstration, which produced 15 percent increases in internet usage.


LISC deploys digital resources through six Civic Tech programs
(see map):The work aligns with the Chicago Tech Plan, which calls for “full participation of all Chicago residents and businesses in the digital economy.”

  1. FamilyNet Centers – The 12 centers provide free internet access, trainings and information about low-cost home services such as Comcast Internet Essentials, which costs $9.95 per month for households that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. A LISC AmeriCorps member supports the digital trainings at 11 of the FamilyNet Centers.
  2. Web portals – Six LISC-affiliated neighborhoods have “portals” that allow users to read about and post information about local events, issues and businesses. Neighborhoods also use blogs, Facebook pages and EveryBlock.
  3. Business Resource Network – Five neighborhood partners help small businesses upgrade their technology and connect to internet resources.
  4. Online news training – Three communities sponsor literacy trainings that help residents interpret online news and become contributors to local portals and other information vehicles.
  5. Open data / open gov – LISC and partners developed Open Gov for the Rest of Us to develop neighborhood participation in use of public data and to build bridges to Chicago’s community of open-data programmers and app-builders.
  6. Data Fridays – Specialists in use of data and apps present about their work each month at Data Friday gatherings that are open to all in the community development field. (See calendar.)

The digital programming at the FamilyNet Centers was added as a fourth core service of LISC’s Centers for Working Families, which attract steady walk-in traffic with job placement and career services, access to public benefits, and one-on-one financial counseling.

“We’ve already documented that people who use two or more of these services are more likely to improve their financial situation,” said Ricki Lowitz, LISC Chicago’s director of economic opportunities. “We expect to see additional benefits for residents who participate in digital programs, especially now that most job applications have to be filled out online.”

The expanded digital toolbox was developed by LISC in collaboration with its neighborhood-based partner organizations and the City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology.

Funding has come from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Chicago Department of Family Support Services, MacArthur Foundation, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, Comcast Internet Essentials, Charter One and the Knight Foundation.

For more information: Ricki Lowitz, LISC Chicago director of economic opportunities, rlowitz@lisc.org, 312-422-9559.

Posted in Civic Tech, Economic Development, Financial Opportunities

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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