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Free Wi-Fi, Chromebooks, and Tech Assistance Available to La Porte County Residents Thanks to Digital Navigators

Did you know that you can “check out” Wi-Fi or a Chromebook for free? Thanks to the Friends of the La Porte County Public Library’s Digital Navigators program, La Porte County residents have access to technology resources beyond the walls of the library. The program, initially supported by a grant from Health Foundation of La Porte, aims to increase technology literacy in our community by making it easy for folks in need to access the internet at home, outside of the hours the library is open.  

 

Through the Digital Navigators program, library staff first meet with community members to assess their technology skills, identify their needs, and set goals. The program also provides “TechPacks,” which include a backpack with a Chromebook and Wi-Fi hotspot. Community members who attend required meetings and technology help sessions can check out a TechPack for up to three months. By having a TechPack at home, residents can apply for jobs, schedule telehealth appointments with health providers, and connect with the world. All that is required is a free La Porte County Public Library account. 

 

This program began in 2023, aiming to provide devices to community members experiencing barriers to technology access. Searching for employment today is made more difficult by the fact that most jobs require online applications. People without access to the internet, a computer, tablet, or smart phone, or the skills to navigate the world wide web need resources and education to fill this gap. Digital Navigators provides just that. In addition to the devices and Wi-Fi hotspots, the program also provides digital assistance and training. Community members who need help using their smart phone, navigating the internet, or accessing email can visit a La Porte County Public Library branch and find assistance.  

 

 

La Porte County Technology Access Success Stories 

 

Public libraries serve a tremendous purpose in communities – free resources, access, and assistance. The Digital Navigators program was created after library staff assessed the need for technological help across its seven La Porte County locations. In 2021, La Porte County Public Library fulfilled 1,147 requests for technology help. Much of the assistance needed by community members involved seeking employment – searching for open positions, developing resumes, and completing job applications. To provide community members with the needed wireless internet and computer access outside of library buildings and hours, TechPacks were created. 

 

Since the program began, 710 basic tech help sessions have taken place. Users have checked out 45 TechPacks and 291 Wi-Fi hotspots.  

 

“The biggest success of the Digital Navigators initiative is the wealth of participants who have made great strides in self-improvement and learning to navigate the modern technology landscape,” shared Fonda Owens, Director of the La Porte County Public Library. 

 

The library staff have dozens of success stories to share. One customer has been using the Digital Navigators program to improve his access to telehealth appointments. Before he started the program, he would book private spaces at the library to make his appointments. With a TechPack, he has been attending from home, saving significant travel expenses, the stress of making it to the library early to set up, and the inherent lack of privacy the glass-walled study rooms provide. He has been incredibly grateful to the program. 

 

Another customer lives in a rural area and has little to no access to the Internet. She was able to attend telehealth appointments using a TechPack. She has also been applying online for government programs to help get the assistance she needs. 

 

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 12.1% of La Porte County residents (all ages) live in poverty. For individuals struggling to meet their basic needs, technology is a luxury. Individuals who lack access to computers and the internet are at a disadvantage from those in the community with access to technology. This digital divide between individuals with access to technology and the skills to use it leads to gaps in education attainment, income disparities, and impacts health. “Socioeconomic status is the most powerful predictor of disease, disorder, injury and mortality we have,' says Tom Boyce, MD, chief of UCSF’s Division of Developmental Medicine within the Department of Pediatrics. 

 

Health Foundation of La Porte (HFL) President and CEO Maria Fruth said, “Access to technology, particularly using technology to communicate with providers or track health care data, is a social determinant of health. Supporting the Digital Navigators program is a source of pride for HFL, and we are thrilled to see so many residents finding the digital connections and assistance they need.”   

 

Digital Navigators’ TechPacks and technology assistance are helping to bridge that gap for La Porte County residents in need of access. Visit a branch to apply for your free library card, share your technology needs, and get connected today. Learn more at https://www.laportelibrary.org/ or by calling the Main Branch at 219.362.6156.  

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