Warren County is first pilot community for Connect and Literacy Fund program

Published 9:42 am Saturday, February 17, 2024

Warren County has been chosen as the first pilot community in the state of Mississippi for the Broadband Association Connect and Literacy Fund program.

The program, coordinated by the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy, is partnering with the United Way of West Central Mississippi to establish a 10-year dedicated initiative aimed at overcoming barriers to digital opportunities statewide, beginning in Warren County.

United Way of West Central Mississippi Executive Director Michele Connelly said the initiative is an exciting opportunity for Warren County to address the nationwide problem of providing affordable internet connectivity and digital literacy on a local level.

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“The United Way of West Central Mississippi is a member of the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy,” Connelly
explained. “It keeps us in tap with ‘What are the needs across the state?,’ but it also lets us network with individuals who see gaps and want to determine if they truly are gaps.”

Connelly said the Alliance recently reached out to the United Way about the opportunity presented by the Mississippi Broadband Association (MSBA) Connect and Literacy Fund Pilot program and expressed their interest in Warren County.

“(They) were very interested in not only addressing the challenges that there are with connectivity, but also understanding those challenges along the way,” she said. “Warren County was chosen as the first pilot community to go through the process.”

The (MSBA) Connect and Literacy Fund Pilot programs will invest in a total of three communities around Mississippi. The pilot programs will be an opportunity for MSBA to ensure they are both efficient and effective in the deployment of the full Connect and Literacy Program across all 82 counties in the state.

Connelly said the United Way has been asked to invite local stakeholders to an introductory meeting in late February in order to learn more about the program and how it can impact the community.

“My role in this is to bring people together in Warren County who can better inform (MSBA) of what the challenges are and listen to what they are proposing as a solution to those challenges,” she said.

Connelly said part of that process planned for rollout in the county includes classes to help families better understand technology and how to navigate it.

“They want to provide that class at Hinds Community College free of charge, but we know that transportation is a major issue in our community, so they really want to pause and hear from the community. What are those barriers and what can they do to overcome those barriers before they even roll out this opportunity for the community.”

Connenlly said the eventual goal is to form two “pilot groups” made up of around 15 local families each and with the aim of providing them with instructional classes and devices they can then take home and use.

“They want to explain how to open up doors for different professional opportunities; how to open up doors for academic enrichment for their children; how to utilize technology to be successful in the world we live in today.”