By Anna Mucciarone
While walking down a bustling city street in the morning, you might pass some people who are talking loudly into their phone and others with headphones plugged into both ears, listening to music. As you’re walking, you might even take out your own phone to send a few quick text messages before arriving at your destination. What you might not notice while walking down the street is the number of people you pass that aren’t using a phone, possibly because they can’t afford one. In today’s society, most people tend to focus more on the growing technology addiction than the reality of the digital divide. While Internet access is a rite of passage for many people, there is a portion of the population that can’t afford to buy the latest iPhone or Internet connection. For those that live in Mercer County, evidence of the digital divide is apparent right in their backyards. Of the 85,000 citizens that call Trenton home, a significant number do not own a computer. With the Internet becoming more of a staple in our society every year, these families are being limited to what they can participate in with regards to school and their careers. For the families of Trenton and surrounding areas that find themselves in this situation, a section of the non-profit organization Mercer Street Friends may be able to help. This program, called the Trenton Digital Initiative (TDI), is working to slowly end the digital divide in the local community by distributing free computers to families that are in need of one. At its start, the Trenton Digital Initiative was a small idea being launched by tech-savvy founders, Dave Zboray and Glenn Paul. “We were just talking about how we could use our computer skills to help others,” said Zboray, who is now an IT specialist at Mercer Street Friends. “We came up with the idea we called ‘100 Computers for 100 Mercer Street Friends: Trenton Digital Initiative Gets Tech Savvy Families,’ which we would later rename the ‘Trenton Digital Initiative.’” Since it began in 2012, TDI has established a partnership with Mercer Street Friends and distributed 350 computers to families in need. In addition, TDI works to educate both youth and adults on basic computer skills. “We didn’t want to just hand out computers,” said Zboray, emphasizing the importance of offering these classes. “So we have included training with each computer we distribute.” The computer education classes are offered through the Youth Services Program and Parenting Program at Mercer Street Friends. By signing up for either set of classes, families gain the opportunity to expand their knowledge of computers and technology. Another major concern for families that are struggling to make ends meet is being able to afford a stable Internet connection. With help from TDI, those families can connect to a special plan offered by Comcast. For just $9.95 per month, they can put their computers to use. The mission Statement for Mercer Street Friends is, “Bridging opportunity gaps…helping families and communities make the journey out of poverty.” TDI exemplifies this statement by providing local families with the opportunity to take home a computer of their own and support their Internet connection with an affordable plan. With each computer they distribute, the Trenton Digital Initiative is helping to end the digital divide within the Trenton community.
Mercer Street Friends 151 Mercer Street, Trenton, NJ 08611 Phone: (609) 396-1506