We can all agree that 2020 was a year like no other. As the pandemic prompted a collective shift towards a virtual world, it became clear that internet access and digital skills would be crucial to remain connected. This increased dependence on technology put a spotlight on the digital divide— exacerbating the long-standing disparities between those who could utilize technology and those who could not.
Since 2008, CTN’s mission has been to transform lives through digital literacy. Over the years, we have delivered digital literacy training programs to low-income and older adults using partner locations such as libraries, community centers, and low-income housing developments. When the pandemic first hit in early March, it became evident we could no longer continue on with business as usual.
Motivated to support our most vulnerable populations, CTN began working on a program that would virtually train older adults how to use the internet from the comfort and safety of their own homes. While we had long envisioned a remote delivery format, the pandemic presented the opportunity to explore its feasibility and implementation. In just a month’s time, we pivoted our entire organizational model to launch Home Connect. This fully remote training program would provide a device, training booklet, and one-on-one digital literacy instruction to older adults by leveraging screen-sharing technology.
While you can read more about the program’s origins and launch in this annual report, Home Connect represents a major transformation for our organization. It equipped us to reach new populations and pursue new partnerships. It also laid the groundwork for other variations of remote instruction— including group classes and Q&A sessions— to fulfill our training agreements with partnering organizations.
CTN is proud of the sustained impact we’ve had this year despite its hardships. We are excited to share this year’s highlights and accomplishments— none of which would be possible without the generous support of our volunteers, community partners, and funders. As we look towards the future with optimism, we are motivated to build a more digitally inclusive world for all.
WHO WE ARE
Community Tech Network strives to eliminate the digital divide by providing digital skills training while helping our learners acquire home internet and a device. We recognize that access to technology is only a partial solution. Connectivity needs to be coupled with digital skills training that is relevant and accessible to all learners no matter their language, age, or socioeconomic status.
WHO WE SERVE
Since 2008, Community Tech Network has provided life-changing digital literacy training targeting low-income adults of all ages. These individuals, most disadvantaged by their lack of access, are now able to enjoy the benefits of digital devices and the internet. Our training opportunities are offered throughout the community, in both virtual and in-person settings depending on each learner’s needs. Reflecting the diversity of the populations we serve, our language-specific programs serve adult learners in eight different languages.
Learn more about CTN’s work in 2020
2020 began with our usual optimism and expectations. January and February were business-as-usual as we continued to fulfill obligations and agreements with our training partners and funders. We continued program development and expansion while enhancing our ongoing training platforms and pursuing new strategic partners.
In early March, we sensed that major changes were in the air, but none of us expected the stay-at-home mandates and the loss of our “bread and butter” programming — access to our clients at community centers, libraries, senior centers, and other venues where we met with our learners face-to-face. Our traditional service delivery model ceased overnight. The sudden isolation of our most vulnerable clients — older adults living alone with no home internet or digital device to access it — became our motivation. They were the group most impacted, the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and the most at risk from a safety, health, and emotional perspective. Improving their situation became our focus and greatest challenge.
Kami Griffiths, CTN’s executive director and co-founder, had long envisioned a program that would leverage technology to reach older adults virtually at home. The COVID-19 pandemic provided the opportunity to explore and evaluate the feasibility of this concept utilizing volunteer and paid staff resources. Although it would be a quick pivot from our traditional in-person training model, CTN staff knew that this virtual program— soon dubbed Home Connect— would be crucial for older adults during this challenging time.
LAUNCHING HOME CONNECT A TIMELINE
Dispersed across the community because of stay-at-home mandates, CTN staff came together via email, phone calls, and video conferencing. Though the program’s design quickly emerged from the collective work of the group, we deliberated at length on its details and logistics. How do we identify our learners? How do we ensure they have internet access and an appropriate device? Which screen-sharing software do we use to see what the senior learner is viewing during training sessions? As we brainstormed on these questions, we also considered possible funding sources to get the project off the ground.
As the team defined roles and responsibilities, we identified three key challenges to focus on as we fine-tuned the design of the Home Connect program:
- The number of older adults that could be reached would dramatically decrease since virtual training would shift to one-on-one rather than small group settings.
- Because we would reach fewer seniors at one time, we needed to identify and prioritize the most vulnerable.
- CTN needed to identify new funding sources that would provide a device for each learner that they could retain at the end of training. In addition to devices, we needed a strategy to secure home internet access for those isolated older adults who did not have it.
With deadlines and timelines established, the Home Connect program was ready for initial implementation. The next step was to engage our community partners for their assistance in identifying potential older adult learners, who remain the most at-risk from the impact of COVID-19. Once we had referrals, CTN staff followed up with potential students and began to engage them in the training process. It was also essential that we recruit a diverse corps of volunteers. Initially, ten volunteers on the call expressed a desire to take an active role in Home Connect’s further development and refinement. All were required to attend a 90-minute online training and watch two videos on internet safety and elder abuse.
On April 27th, 2020, Vivian Irving— a senior sheltering in place and fearful to leave the house— began her Home Connect lessons with her CTN Instructor Josie Boyle. In the following days, CTN’s Sabrina Tam delivered the first devices to three older adults living in Alemany Apartments in San Francisco. They were selected for the inaugural Home Connect program since their apartment is one of 23 low-income housing developments with a fiber connection. As we continued fine-tuning the program and tackling logistics, more lessons were underway. By the end of May, we had over 100 referrals from our local partners. Twelve years of vision, commitment, and dedication to those we serve allowed CTN to dramatically change direction in a little more than 30 days.
“Gone are the days of one needing to ‘travel’ to gain access to the internet,” says Stephen Minor, senior program manager at CTN. “Equal access means bringing the internet directly to the user so that they can maintain a constant connection to their community, loved ones, and essential services.”
By the end of 2020, Home Connect served 152 unique learners, awarded 183 devices, completed 2523 hours of instruction, and offered training in five distinct languages.
Metta Fund, a long-time funding partner of CTN, provided a grant that supported our evaluation of the program’s success and impact. We found that before joining the Home Connect program, 31 percent of its participants lacked any sort of internet access at home. Only 54 percent used the internet regularly. In a survey conducted six months after participants completed the program, their regular usage of the internet has increased to 98 percent. Similarly, overall levels of loneliness (based on the UCLA loneliness scale) have decreased by 19 percent.
CTN is proud of the sustained impact we’ve had this year through the Home Connect program. As coronavirus restrictions ease up and circumstances change, Home Connect will continue to help those unable to attend our traditional community-based programming due to personal mobility challenges, underlying health issues, or lack of transportation to the training sites.
To respond to the unique needs of each community we work with, our range of programs serves older adults, low-income people, veterans, long-term unemployed, transitional age youth, immigrants, and families. In 2020, we adapted each of our programs to embrace virtual training. Beyond the one-on-one training offered through Home Connect, we continued to instruct seniors in virtual group settings through our community partnerships.
Read more about program highlights from 2020:
2020 PARTNER HIGHLIGHTS
CTN was one of 35 San Francisco nonprofits selected to assist the Department of Disability and Aging Services (DAS) in making wellness check-in phone calls. The purpose of these calls was to ensure that older adults— most of whom were over the age of 80 and lived alone— were supported during the initial phases of the pandemic. After over 10,000 seniors were identified, DAS distributed call lists and scripts to participating agencies. In April and May of 2020, CTN was assigned to 125 seniors who spoke Chinese, Spanish, or Russian. Utilizing our bilingual staff members, we talked with each senior to check in on how they were doing and to offer information about resources available to them. We also connected seniors to DAS’s Benefits and Resource Hub for further assistance.
Curry Senior Center is a valued training partner that has shared several common bonds with CTN — both are SF Connected locations, both are committed to providing digital learning opportunities for seniors, and both had to transition our traditional in-person training model to an online platform necessitated by COVID-19. Here’s what Angela Di Martino, Curry’s wellness program manager, had to say about their partnership with CTN: “Curry Senior Center has a long history of working together with CTN staff and volunteers to provide critical digital literacy training for our clients. Since 2018, our partnership for Project Senior Vitality has been a creative and rewarding one. We depend on the CTN staff and volunteers for their insightful technology skills, as well as wonderful compassion for our seniors. They make learning fun and accessible for all! We are especially grateful for their flexibility in working with us on new ways to administer our classes online, instead of in-person, during the COVID-19 crisis.”
A couple of years ago, CTN partnered with Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly to present Tech Allies 1.0 — a program that trained 100 seniors on the basics of digital literacy. When the pandemic shifted us to remote training, we collaborated with LBFE to launch an updated program: Tech Allies 2.0. The new program trained 50 seniors, most of whom are graduates of the previous program. In addition to digital literacy instruction, each learner received a preconfigured tablet and a step-by-step training booklet. In Tech Allies 2.0, learners moved beyond basic digital skills and focused on health and communications. Although online health portals can be especially confusing, this collaborative program ensured that learners could easily navigate patient portals and get the help they need.
CTN’s valued community partner, Mission Neighborhood Centers, serves over 3,000 low-income seniors, youth, and families with young children at 11 sites throughout San Francisco. When the pandemic hit, Mission transitioned their programming to virtual formats— offering activities, classes, and group therapy via Zoom. Though we could no longer offer in-person digital literacy classes at Mission, we could help their older adult clients stay connected to essential programs. Thus, Mission became a bountiful referral source for Home Connect, providing potential older adult learners that could benefit from the program. Here’s what Aurora Alvarado, Healthy Aging & Disability Programs Manager at Mission’s Capp Street location, had to say about our partnership: “CTN is so easy to work with. They communicate in a timely manner and are always very responsive. All of the staff and volunteer trainers are very personable, and our clients enjoy working with them.”
Before the pandemic, Elmira Lagundi was a regular at Canon Kip Senior Center, where she had nutritious lunches with friends, played bingo, and participated in singing and dancing activities. After several months of COVID-induced isolation and lockdown, she was contacted by the senior center to see if she was interested in distance learning computer classes provided by CTN. Elmira had some previous experience working with computers in a professional setting, but recently, Elmira’s technology use was limited to what she could do on her phone.
Josie Boyle, a bilingual digital literacy instructor with CTN, was Elmira’s trainer in the Home Connect program. The two rapidly moved through the first five sessions, thanks in part to Elmira’s previous tech experience. Once the tablet familiarization session was mastered, they progressed to downloading some of the fun apps. “I have several Zoom classes or meetings almost every day,” Elmira said. “I join in a few exercise classes from the senior center and participate in four choir practices — one in English, one in Spanish, one in the language of the Philippines, and one that combines all three! I love it all; I missed my friends so much when I couldn’t see them.”
Bonnie and Carlos Perez
Bonnie and Carlos Perez were enthusiastic participants in many activities at the Mission Neighborhood and Senior Center before it closed due to the pandemic. When the married couple heard about our Home Connect program from a friend of Bonnie’s, they were eager to join. Although Carlos had a bit of experience using a desktop computer, they did not have one at home. Because of the high costs of cell service and data, the couple had to rely on their home landline to communicate with friends, family, and the rest of the world.
Working with one of CTN’s bilingual digital literacy trainers, Maria Vazquez, Bonnie and Carlos completed their initial five training sessions in Spanish. After they were comfortable navigating the tablet and getting connected to the internet, Maria introduced the couple to an app that would allow them to use their tablet as a cellphone. In the next session, Maria taught them how to use Zoom, which let them rejoin their friends in the online classes and activities provided by the senior center.
“We were pleased and grateful with our teacher Maria; she was always kind and patient while teaching us how to use the tablet and the apps,” reflects Bonnie. “We love seeing our friends again on Zoom. We use our tablet to order medicine refills, so we no longer have to go to Kaiser and expose ourselves to infection while waiting for the medicine to be ready.”
Launching the Digital Coaches program
Over the past 12 years, CTN’s digital literacy training programs have relied on both professional staff trainers and dedicated, trained volunteers to deliver programs in the communities we serve. Our Home Connect program built on that proven combination but made it clear that we had to rethink volunteer recruitment and training to accommodate a virtual world. The newly launched digital coaches program seamlessly combined the talents of both paid and volunteer staff into a single training format created for older adult learners.
Each Home Connect learner receives an initial five hours of virtual introductory and basic instruction from a staff trainer. They are then transitioned to a volunteer digital coach, who delivers the rest of the lessons selected by the learner from among the Learning Pathways. Since we began this expanded search strategy in April, we onboarded over 60 new digital coaches from nine states by the end of December. In addition to California, which has the greatest number of coaches, our volunteers live in Washington, Utah, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia.
Deepa lives in Chicago and currently works remotely for a Chicago company in systems implementation. Over the past three years, she has taught her grandparents, who live in an assisted living setting in Canada, how to use technology. Witnessing firsthand the difference technology makes in the life of her grandparents, Deepa realized the importance of digital literacy and internet access for isolated older adults as well as the personal rewards of helping her grandparents get connected. After coming across CTN in a Google search for remote volunteer opportunities, Deepa was matched as a digital coach with Carol, a San Francisco resident. After meeting for five sessions, Carol is now successfully using YouTube as well as Zoom. “Being a digital coach is a great opportunity to create connections with someone who has an entirely different background, outlook, and perspective,” reflects Deepa. “We are both rewarded by each training session!”
When Daniel Rascon was doing a full-time remote internship this summer, his employer gave him time off to do volunteer work. He began to search for remote opportunities that would help people most affected by the pandemic and discovered CTN’s Digital Coaching program. After talking more with CTN staff, Daniel was excited by the prospect of helping isolated older adults remain safe and healthy by learning to use a device, access the internet, and leverage the power of technology. As a native of Mexico, Daniel’s bilingual skills made him the perfect match for Home Connect learner Rachel— a native of Peru. “I know the digital divide causes problems in life every day when you don’t have internet access, a device, and the skills to use them,” Daniel reflects. “In my academic and work experience, I am building and designing technology. While you think you are building something relatively simple to use, it is very important to always design and build products accessible by everyone, including those with no digital skills.”
Community Tech Network is, above all, a community. It is a web of people and organizations — each with their own unique skills and perspectives — coming together to transform lives through digital literacy. We are proud of our sustained impact this year, but it would not have been possible without a passionate network of staff members, board members, community partners, and sponsors.
2020 BOARD OF DIRECTORS
- Margaret Schoelwer, Board Chair
- Robert Friedman, Board Vice-Chair
- Barrington Dyer, Secretary
- Lauren DeBarr, Treasurer
- Charles Aston
- Eric Beattie
- Danielle Bowers
- Michelle DeGrate
- Sarah Gerrish
- Janyka Kelly
- Irina Poslavsky
- Sushma Shirish
- Emmie Tran
- Francoise Van Keuren
STAFF AND CONTRACTORS
- Abia Oliva
- Al Ho
- Annie Tan
- Carlos Sivira
- Carol Simmons
- Colin Rhinesmith
- Dale Thompson
- Dima Khoury
- Emma Reeder
- Erika Jones-Clary
- Jannell Mateo Rivas
- Jonathan Monte
- Jono Marcus
- Josie Boyle
- Kami Griffiths
- Kate Sheludziayeva
- Lauren Cotter
- Laurie Sanchez
- Maria Vazquez
- Mark Romero
- Mercedes Marroquin
- Nyarie Zhou
- Patrick Qiu
- Queenie Gaviola
- Sabrina Tam
- Stephen Minor
- Valerie Robateau
- William Dean
- Xandi Wright
- Zaiban Ghwari
THANK YOU 2020 SPONSORS