How many times did you rely on the internet today? How about your computer, laptop or tablet?
Imagine having to get through your daily routine, whether it's work, school, or searching for a job, without access to the internet or a device to use it. That’s the reality for tens of thousands of families in our region — a problem EY employees were quick to address as COVID-19 shifted our world to remote work and learning.
In 2020, EY partnered with United Way to create the Digital Divide Fund in response to the growing economic, educational and social inequalities of those with computers and online access and those without. During their Fall 2020 United Way Employee Giving Campaign, EY associates in the Greater Philadelphia office donated approximately $56,000 to the Fund. These gifts were then distributed to United Way’s Family Empowerment Program, a two-generation poverty intervention operated by local community partner, Utility Emergency Services Fund (UESF). Thanks to the coordinated efforts of all partners and the generous donations to the Digital Divide Fund, families were finding support— and for some, it was just in time:
A Philadelphia family reached out to UESF after facing eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rent had fallen behind as mom was still recovering from two brain surgeries while serving as the sole provider for her son. As schools began to send students home for remote learning, the stress piled on. With no internet, computer or home, mom felt out of options. Thankfully, with some family support, mom and son were able to find stable housing where they could access the internet. But without a computer or digital device, the internet served little purpose.
Between continued telemedicine appointments, job search, and school, this family was going to need a means to stay connected. The Digital Divide Fund’s support of the Family Empowerment Program gives eligible families access to custom Technology Bundles — a mix of Internet access, hardware, and tutoring options based on each families’ unique needs. For mom, this meant receiving a laptop, mouse, and computer bag for travel. Digital Navigators were also made available, showing mom how to access job search engines and online resources so she can advocate for herself, family, and friends through local support.
Today, mom and son are doing well. Mom is using the laptop for her telemedicine appointments, helping with son’s homework, and building her resume as she gets ready to reenter the workforce. It’s a new reality for this family, and the growing number of others, as they cross the digital divide to a world of opportunity.
There is still much to be done to close the digital divide. But together with generous donors, committed volunteers and community partners United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey can continue to help families get connected. Learn more about our digital equity work and ways you can offer support.