This is part of a weekly series that highlights a grant the Foundation is involved with.
High speed Internet access isn’t just useful for those who want to play Angry Birds and find out what their friends are doing at all times.
Increasingly, government organizations and businesses are less apt to rely on traditional methods of giving and receiving important information, and more likely to turn to the World Wide Web. For people who don’t have reliable Internet access, this can be a huge problem.
Centre County Community Foundation Executive Director Alfred Jones, Jr. listed procuring Social Security benefits as an example of why Internet access is so important.
“The Social Security office dissuades people from going to the office and applying in person,” Jones said. “They want you to do it online. If you don’t have the ability to do that, it’s an impediment.”
The Centre County Community Foundation applied to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a grant that would enhance Wi-Fi Internet at all Centre County libraries; add 34 new computers at libraries; increase speed and connectivity, and expand workspaces and comfortable seating areas for library visitors. It would also create four satellite computing stations in remote areas of Centre County for those who live far from the libraries.
The Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, including Centre County.
A representative from Knight took a tour of Centre County’s libraries (Jones said they were especially intrigued by an Amish family who had parked their buggy outside the Penns Valley Library and had come in to use the Internet) and eventually, the Community Foundation received a $350,000 grant from Knight for the project. The grant is part of a $5.5 million Knight Foundation initiative benefiting library users in 20 communities across the United States.
“The Knight Foundation thinks big thoughts and I admire their vision,” Jones said. “They have this bedrock principle that information is as important a resource to a community as water. Communities can’t function properly without informed citizens. If you have no good access to good electronic information, you’re reduced to a second class citizen.”
The libraries are still in the beginning stages of the project. But the Foundation is already thinking about the long-term success of the grant.
“We helped get this off the ground, but equally important is keeping it going,” Jones said. “The libraries were concerned about what would happen when the grant ran out, concerned that they would be left on the hook” Jones said. “We’re working to find ongoing support for this. It’s an opportunity for the Foundation to take a community leadership role; an opportunity to take action.”
The ongoing support Jones mentioned includes a $25,000 donation from a single donor, which was used to set up a fund at the Foundation which will benefit the project. It is Jones’ hope that through fundraising and working with the Federation of Libraries, individual libraries and their “Friends of” support groups, commissioners who support the libraries, and others, that fund will grow to several million dollars.
Jones said the changes that will be made with this grant money will have a lasting impact on the Centre County region.
“This is a permanent improvement to the quality of life for our community,” he said.