The digital divide, particularly for women and youth, continues to be a serious issue in Snohomish County. A recent survey by the Washington State Department of Commerce found that 6.7 percent of residents in Snohomish County had no broadband access and 35 percent have speeds lower than 10 Mbps.
I serve as Executive Director of YWCA for Snohomish County. Having worked with YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish in the area for 25 years, I have had firsthand experience working with people greatly affected by the digital divide in the community and strive to push our organization to do as much as we can to address the issue.
We recently partnered with Comcast to create a Lift Zone Lab: Digital Community Learning Space at YWCA’s Somerset Village Apartments in Lynnwood. Somerset Village is a 64-unit complex of affordable, permanent housing for families earning 60 percent and below the area’s median income. Residents also have access to case management, support services, community services, and referrals to health care, job training, and employment resources.
Supported by a $76,000 investment from Comcast, the Lab enhances these supports by making technology available to help residents attain life and job skills through training, education, computer classes, internships, job placement, and more. The technology equipment in the lab includes a 3D printer, Oculus VR, projector and screen, omnidirectional microphone and speakers, camera, Chromebooks, a gaming computer, and more.
Access to these resources is especially beneficial for the youth residents in Somerset Village. The resources in the Lab are the kinds of technologies youth need to succeed in today’s educational and occupational environments, especially outside of school hours, and during school breaks.
Also, the free high-speed WiFi offered at the lab helps the families at Somerset Village stay connected socially and professionally. Without reliable digital access, communities who already face systemic challenges are being blocked from opportunities for economic mobility and educational advancement.
Comcast is providing the lab with free WiFi as part of the company’s effort to roll out its “Lift Zones” program in local community centers throughout Washington and across the nation. In collaboration with cities, community organizations, and local nonprofit partners, Comcast has now installed free WiFi in more than 90 community centers statewide.
The Lab opened in May, and we have had the chance to start to see the difference it has made for our residents. The first thing that stood out was simply seeing the excitement of the kids when they first got to go into the Lab. They were overjoyed to start using the gaming computer, the 3-D printer, Oculus system, and to start using the laptops to access the Internet.
What we are most-excited about with the lab at YWCA are its long-term benefits and the impact it will make, especially with the youth of Somerset Village. Having access to this technology every day means there will be no limit to how much they can learn and how well they can master any technology they are interested in.
For the women who call Somerset Village home, the access to the technology in the Lab and the free WiFi means they will always have access to the digital tools needed to thrive and progress in their personal lives and careers. When anyone in our community is hurting, it affects us all. The time has come to create a healthy and joy-filled community, where women and girls of color have equal access to opportunity and resources to pursue their full potential.
YWCA continues to push to enhance digital equity for the community we serve and to reduce the number of those who are experiencing homelessness in Snohomish County, and King County. One of the crucial ways we can do this is with support from the community.
Each year, we host a fundraising Luncheon to share information about our programs and the community we serve. Because this year’s event is digital, we invite anyone who is interested to join, in Snohomish County, and outside of the area as well.
- YWCA Virtual Inspire Luncheon: Rise & Thrive
- September 15 @ 12:30pm PDT
- Featuring keynote speaker, Anita Hill
If you are interested in attending this year’s Luncheon, you can find more information here: ywcaworks.org/luncheon
I am incredibly excited to watch our residents use the Lab and for the YWCA to continue to adapt and take on the issues that affect the community in Snohomish County. We are also grateful for the commitment and investment we received from a community partner like Comcast to make it all happen.
Technology will always continue to evolve, and new problems and needs develop for those we serve. I am proud we will always be right there working to be part of the solution.