By Priya Soni
To be a teenager living in an era revolving around technology, as it is today, means seeing peers with their faces basically burrowed into their phones and computer screens. Pictures, videos, statuses and tweets are posted and shared amongst friends, as well as the rest of the world. Some posts, even, evolving from a simple video to a viral phenomenon in a matter of minutes, giving the individual a moment of fame. Though the Earth is vast and contains parts unknown to some, we constantly remain connected through the Internet. We befriend strangers in other places. We maintain relationships with those close to us.
With advances in technology, our means of acquiring education and information has improved significantly. We find easier ways to complete tasks through online mediums. It is easier for adolescents to speak with friends and professors online, and complete assignments at his or her own pace. Getting jobs has even become easier and more accessible — as recruiters post positions online and expect to receive interest from a vast number of students.
The Internet can be an incredibly useful tool, and to most American teenagers, an easily acquirable “necessity” taken for granted. But what is the Internet to a teenager who is experiencing homelessness?
A luxury as valuable as gold.
The workers and volunteers at HomeFront, a Mercer County-based homeless prevention social services agency, witness this “digital divide” amongst those facing homelessness every day, and help bridge the gap between them and the Internet. The agency has been working with homeless, at-risk and very low-income families in Central New Jersey for 25 years, and has been providing them with the tools and resources needed to become self-sufficient.
When asked about the biggest challenge these depraved teens face, Meghan Brittingham, Volunteer Coordinator at the facility, said, “Definitely education.”
Having worked at the agency for almost two years, Brittingham notices the challenges young and impoverished individuals face without easily accessible Internet connection.
“Being able to submit assignments and research online…and being able to excel in different subject areas is the biggest challenge for these kids,” Brittingham said.
She mentions that teens with no Internet access or smartphones also struggle to communicate and keep in touch with professors, friends and family.
HomeFront strives to provide services and programs geared towards education and employment. Its primary focus for teens is to help them realize the importance of graduating high school and continuing their studies. Students are tutored in all subject areas, assisted with their homework three nights a week, and trained on how to use a computer, given access to computers and the Internet when needed.
“Triumphant Teens” is a program initiated by the agency, in which the teens with the most need are given the opportunity to gain work experience and showcase their skills. The program’s three components are job readiness, tutorial and internships.
During the summer months, the program’s objective is more recreational and students listen to guest speakers and take weekly trips. This, along with other programs like Kids4Kids or Women’s Initiative, can be found on HomeFront’s website at www.homefrontnj.org.
The idea that a majority of teenagers are now provided with frequent access to technology is encouraging, yet, that does not mean we can ignore the deprivation faced by the hundreds of millions of individuals experiencing homelessness in our world today.
“Without the tools to succeed in school, their plans for the future may not have many options,” stated Brittingham. “We will continue our computer training programs and work hard to ensure accessibility…[and] continue to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable population in our community.”