Eastside’s neighborhood association launching internet cafe to expand internet access in community

VIDEO: Expanding internet access in the community

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) -A grassroots community organization in the Eastside community in downtown Charleston is providing internet access and resources to families.

The president of the Eastside Community Development Corporation Latonya Gamble says it's a necessity and they're in need of donations to serve more people.

“During COVID, we were the only place open,” Gamble said. “People needed to reach out to the Charleston County School District. They needed to file their unemployment, they needed prescriptions, they were looking for work, we had so many different services... they were doing the census.”

The organization works to fill the gaps between people in the community and the resource they need. Gamble says at the beginning of the pandemic they only had one computer and the need was growing among families who do not have access to a computer at home.

"So as you can imagine, people were coming back 12 times in one day, because we were doing social distancing. They couldn't stay around."

With other community centers and libraries being closed due to the pandemic, people are turning to the neighborhood association even more. They've been sharing their WiFi as well.

The organization is now expanding on their efforts and is creating an internet cafe where more students and adults can gain internet access for free.

Their goal is to have at least 35 computers or laptops available for the community, along with headphones and other items. Since the pandemic began, they've received a few computer donations. They are also fundraising for these efforts.

The Eastside Community Development Corporation has a goal of raising $20,000 for its internet cafe, so far they've received nearly $9,000 in donations.

With students expecting to return to school virtually, they will also be a resource for students who might need some assistance completing their assignments.

Gamble was born and raised in the Eastside community and says it's important to give back.

"Each one should teach one, each one should reach one," Gamble said. "It's important that if we all pull together we could get the resources that we need for our community and get our children the help that they need and have a prosperous community."

The organization has also started what they call "Parent Cafe." It's when they provide support for parents and keep them informed about the changes within the school district when it comes to learning options and safety plans.

"We decided that we would try to dive into that and understand that a little bit more to help parents make the best decisions for their children," Gamble said.

Community members Lisa Watson and Vernon Drayton say the organization has assisted them during this time and prior to the pandemic.

"This community organization means a lot to me and my family and the whole community, it's like a safety net for the whole community," Drayton said.

He says if he has question about something, he can go to the organization and they will find an answer.

"Me as a grandparent, I was a little lost on what to do as far as my grands going back to school and they put me on the right track," Drayton said.

Watson says they've helped connect her to resources.

"My kids have someplace to go in the summertime they have programs," Watson said. " My son was also offered a scholarship. The program means a lot to me."

The community says it's a great support system.

"There's a lot of support in the community, Tonya is really helpful she's always here she's phone call away," Drayton said.

In addition to purchasing computers, they will also purchase materials to provide a safe environment like sanitation products and plastic barriers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The devices will be available for indoor and outdoor use in an effort to social distance.

Gamble says while the Charleston County School District is offering devices or WiFi for families in need, she says some families don't want to disclose their information.

"They don't want to give their income, I don't know why, but they're not giving their income," Gamble said. "So we don't want anything to be a barrier for our children to work."

The organization is also seeking volunteers who are expected to receive a stipend to help oversee the internet cafe. They are encouraging people to schedule a time to come in to use the devices so they can social distance. They will also sanitize devices in between uses.

If you’d like to donate you can visit the organization’s website here.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.