Media Coverage | Neighborhood Allies offers free courses to lessen digital divide in Pittsburgh

Sep 30, 2020

By: Julia Mericle | Pittsburgh Business Times | Read the full article

Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Allies launched a remote digital skills training program — Level Up 412 — for underserved communities in the city.

The program was created in partnership with Verizon, the University of Pittsburgh and the Community College of Allegheny County, among other local organizations. Level Up 412 offers free courses in computer basics, coding, software development, cybersecurity, IT support, 3D printing and more. Some of the courses provide credentials that can be used toward certificate and degree programs moving forward.

Vanessa Buffry, director of digital inclusion for Neighborhood Allies, said the need for initiatives aimed at closing the digital divide have become even more critical during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Neighborhood Allies reported that in March, when the coronavirus first started to spread throughout the Pittsburgh region, 75,000 Allegheny County residents did not have computers in their homes. At that time, Neighborhood Allies led the Beyond the Laptops initiative, which provided 1,200 laptops to Pittsburgh Public Schools students and connected 1,000 PPS families to high-speed internet in their homes.

Buffry said the Level Up 412 programming serves as a “third leg” of that effort to rapidly connect people to the digital world.

“This kind of ties it all together,” Buffry said. “That we really make sure that people actually go somewhere. It’s not just an intervention where we gave them stuff and crossed our fingers.”

Neighborhood Allies reported that by the end of the decade, over 70% of jobs in the state will be digitalized, and that those that are will pay about 17% more than their nondigitalized counterparts. The organization also reported that 82% of middle-income jobs will require digital literacy.

“From the pandemic emerged a greater need for digitally inclusive education opportunities from kindergarten to adulthood for under-resourced communities to acquire in-demand skills for future jobs,” Bill Carnahan, vice president of Verizon state government affairs, said in a prepared statement. “Our partnership with Neighborhood Allies will provide families with devices, access to connectivity, and local remote learning programs to help solve the immediate issues accelerated by the pandemic.”

Neighborhood Allies will recruit for the program through Oct. 15.

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA