Newcomer-serving organizations partner to connect families to essential technology

In the spring of 2020, when pandemic restrictions forced children and youth indoors and online, many families without access to computers or internet faced a real barrier.

“In August we started to convene conversations,” said Katie Loutitt, who was the Edmonton Local Immigration Partnership (ELIP) coordinator for the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO).

Partners put their heads together to figure out how to fill this need, including the ECVO, Francophonie Albertaine Plurielle (FRAP), Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN), Edmonton Immigrant Services Association (EISA), REACH Edmonton, and the United Way.

This partnership of local organizations facilitated the distribution of laptops to families who needed them.

“The idea was these organizations are embedded within the schools through the Settlement Workers in Schools programs in the schools,” said Katie. “They help with connecting immigrant families with school programs and afterschool programs. That’s why this particular group of people came together and then we started to discuss: is there a place to better coordinate and better look at the need for newcomer students when it comes to accessibility and technology.”

Each group was doing what they could to connect newcomer families with technology in the beginning of 2020.  In the fall, organizations applied for funding separately, in hopes of maximizing the dollars to buy technology for students.

“In each application the idea was to reference this group as a coordinated body that was working on distributing computers to newcomers students,” said Katie.

In the end, while some partners received funding from the United Way, FRAP did not.

“So the group decided it didn’t matter, they were a collaborative so they were going to support FRAP with computers as well,” she said. “This is when Catholic Social Services came into the picture as well and joined this collective group.”

Yic Camara, Settlement Workers In Schools program coordinator for FRAP, says the computers have a real impact on families.

“A family phoned me to thank me,” he said. “It’s a huge difference. That was the only device they had in their family with four kids in school: Grades 6, 4, 3, and kindergarten.”

During this time, REACH Edmonton also started a laptop drive working with Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) to support the cause, adding 20 refurbished machines to the 435 computers that were purchased by the group with the funding received.

They continued to collaborate by creating shared criteria for distributing the technology to families.

“In November, then we found out that Grades 7-12 were going to online learning so they focused the criteria on those grades to ensure they had a computer,” said Katie. “If a family didn’t have a computer at all, that was a top priority.”

Prior to applying for the United Way funding, the committee surveyed more than 60 families who received laptops, to better understand the impact they had on families.

“It has had a lot of impact because all the school stuff, the teachers put them online,” said one parent in the survey. “If you do not have a computer, it would be hard to learn anything. We are so thankful for the Chromebook, it is working great.”

After distributing a second round of computers, the group sent another survey to gather information on the effect they have on the families to receiving them.

While the project accomplished practical, timely goals, it also strengthened relationships across organizations.

“The biggest piece of this is the relationships,” said Katie.  “The trust that was established in this collective. Everybody left organizational egos at the door and they were focused on the students and the families and how do we get these computers to them. They were willing to share their computers, their funding, to figure out ways to work together.”

“It’s an example of really good partnership and collaboration and relationship,” she said. “This was originally just a working group or project, but now there’s talk about working together on other things because they’ve created this relationships and trust.”

The partnership is continuing to gather data about the scope of the need in the community and the value of connecting families to technology.

“That’s the idea behind impact surveys,” said Katie.  “To really understand how it’s impacting students and families. It’s a really big issues and we knew this existed before covid but covid just amplified.”

Yic agrees, saying programs like this keep less privileged students from falling behind.

“It’s really important because we are able to help students to succeed. Because of covid everything is online, even though some kids are going to school, still, the homework, everything is online in their classroom so they need a device at home,” he said.

“We don’t want to end up with two systems, so that if you’re able to pay for everything for your kids, you set them up for success but the kids from families who  are struggling have barriers to success.”



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