NYCHA's Digital Vans Bring Internet to the People

The New York City Housing Authority's Digital Van received the National Award of Excellence this week.EXPAND
The New York City Housing Authority's Digital Van received the National Award of Excellence this week.
Anita Abedian

When Carol Ledesma, mother of twin four-year-old girls, wanted to enroll her daughters in New York City’s universal pre-K program, she didn’t know where to start. "I had so many questions about pre-K, but didn’t know who to ask," she says. She saw a flyer about a pre-K registration event being held outside the Clinton Houses in Spanish Harlem on Park Avenue. With her three children in tow, she made the trip to Harlem from the Bronx.

As soon as Ledesma arrived, she was surprised to find that the event was inside a large truck — NYCHA's mobile computer lab, which has eight Dell laptops, a printer, comfy offices chairs, and air-conditioning.

Ledesma, 33, has a computer at home, but often has trouble connecting to the wireless internet, and needed support with the pre-K enrollment process.

"It went well. I narrowed it down to three schools near my son’s school to make it more convenient and have my kids close to each other in Manhattan," Ledsema said.

Nearly 9,000 others have used the labs to apply for jobs, open email accounts, apply for tenant recertification, or pay rent, since the program launched two years ago, according to the city. Just last year, a mother of four was able to earn her college degree by using the Digital Van’s free laptops each Tuesday to complete her schoolwork. And the program recently won the National Award of Excellence from the National Association of Housing and Development Officials.

The vans are partly funded through the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications as part of an effort to bring digital access directly across the five boroughs. The Department of Education's Pre-K for All Outreach Team and NYCHA's Resident Engagement Office just recently began working together to deliver pre-K information to families.

The three vans operate at different public-housing sites each day, says driver Malin Bey. The full schedule is available here.

"The kids come in a lot during the summertime and use the laptops because even if they have smartphones and tablets, they don’t have screens this size," says Bey. "Some people may have internet access, but don’t have computers."

Anna Lora, 57, who lives in the Clinton Houses, noticed the van while walking with her grandson, Adonis. She had never seen the van parked outside before. An enrollment specialist approached her and asked her grandson’s age. He happened to be 4-years-old — the age eligible for pre-K enrollment.

Anna Lora, a resident of the Clinton Houses in Harlem, gets information on pre-K registration from an enrollment specialist.EXPAND
Anna Lora, a resident of the Clinton Houses in Harlem, gets information on pre-K registration from an enrollment specialist.
Anita Abedian

"I didn’t even know I could register my grandson for pre-K," Lora said, adding that she thought the vans were "very good for the community."


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