WinstonNet Inc., a partnership of local government and academic institutions and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce to provide free computer services to city and county residents, has received a $926,537 federal broadband recovery grant to provide new equipment for existing labs, better serve the Hispanic population, open new labs in low-income areas, and expand computer training, job training, and educational resources.
The federal grant will be matched with $532,711 in cash and $163,500 in in-kind contributions from WinstonNet and its member agencies, said John Boehme, the president of WinstonNet and director of technical resources for education and research administrative systems at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.
"This grant will further WinstonNet’s goal of giving all residents of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County access to computers and the skills they need to find jobs in the information age," Boehme said.
With this money WinstonNet will:
- Purchase 369 computers to replace old computers at the 38 free computer labs at city recreation centers, county libraries, churches, shelters, and facilities for the disadvantaged. These computers were at least three years old when donated by member institutions and today average more than 9 years old, with a mix of operating systems.
- Create one new full-time position, four new part-time positions, and preserve two full-time positions within WinstonNet. This will allow WinstonNet to serve approximately 1,500 new lab users weekly and provide computer training classes in Spanish to approximately 160 new participants each month.
- Partner with Forsyth Technical Community College to add four new computer labs in the city and county, replace two of its existing labs, and equip the six labs with 111 computers. Forsyth Tech will set aside a portion of each lab’s time for public computer use.
- Expand the availability of special equipment and software for the physically disadvantaged.
- Expand the availability of free computer instruction at WinstonNet computer labs.
It should take about 24 months to plan, purchase and fully deploy all the equipment and furnishings within the labs, Boehme said.
WinstonNet received one of five grants awarded in North Carolina through the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Agriculture, totaling $115 million. The grants are intended to create jobs and help spur economic development through expanded access to high-speed Internet in underserved areas.
WinstonNet has been offering community access and computer training classes since 2003 with the goal of "bridging the digital divide" and preparing the workforce for the next generation of networked, computer-based technologies.
WinstonNet is a non-profit consortium and operates mostly through volunteer support. The organization grew out of an initiative to create a fiber-optic link between Wake Forest University and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in 1998. Wake Forest then made excess capacity in the network available to the community.
Partners in WinstonNet involved with this grant include the city of Winston-Salem, which provides administrative support and hosts WinstonNet computer labs at 17 city recreation centers; Forsyth County, which provides administrative support, staffing support at computer labs and hosts 10 computer labs at public libraries; Wake Forest University and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, which provide administrative support; Forsyth Technical Community College, which provides administrative and staffing support and hosts two existing and four planned computer labs; Winston-Salem State University, which provides staffing and hosts computer labs at its Community Knowledge Centers; the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, which provides marketing support and programs for children in low income neighborhoods; Computer Training Bridge, which provides free computer classes; and The Adaptables, which provides resources for persons with disabilities.
Other WinstonNet partners which have been instrumental in the grant preparation include the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, Salem College, the UNC School of the Arts, and the Piedmont Triad Research Park.
More information about WinstonNet is available at www.WinstonNet.org.