In August of 2020, the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) joined an initiative to help unconnected CPS families receive free, high-speed internet. This initiative was called Chicago Connected and was a first-of-its-kind program that assisted students and parents amidst the pandemic. With a goal of closing the digital divide, many different businesses, organizations, and community groups worked together to eliminate a barrier to digital learning that disproportionately hurts the city’s low‐income families and students of color. Though this program provided an essential service by connecting families to the internet at no-cost, SWOP organizers and other community organizations began to understand that parents did not have the skills necessary to assist their children with online learning. This sparked the digital learning portion of the Chicago Connected initiative.
One of SWOP’s Chicago Connected Organizer’s, Briana Washington, had this to say regarding the program, “Chicago Connected was unlike any program before it but there were also a lot of things parents hadn’t thought about needing before the pandemic. We had to scramble to create lesson plans for parents so that they could better assist their children.” When asked about her experience regarding the program overall, Briana shared that over time she learned how much the program helps not just parents with their children but individuals in their daily lives. “We helped people better their lives in general. Things we take for granted because we just know how to do them; others were just learning, like how to apply for a job or how to schedule a doctor's appointments. I have always loved helping people and it felt good to be able to see the smiling faces and sometimes even dances people would do when we hand them that certificate that shows not only did they learn the material, but they excelled at it.”
SWOP’s role with the Chicago Connected program wrapped up on July 31st, but Chicago Connected will continue to provide no-cost internet to families until Winter 2024. As one of the trailblazers in this initiative and recipients of the Chicago Connected Appreciation Award, SWOP organizers continue to provide digital learning classes. SWOP’s organizers also provide outreach for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) which offers a $30/month subsidy off home internet to qualifying households in need. To date, SWOP has provided over 1,300 hours of digital learning support to communities. The impression Chicago Connected has left on communities is something that continues to inspire SWOP to make connections with families and help them grow in their digital capacity.