When the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools across America last year, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston kept their doors open so that young people could have safe places to continue their classroom learning online while their parents worked. But the clubs faced a big challenge. Not all their spaces were equipped with internet connectivity aside from their technology labs. With social distancing measures and safety protocols being paramount, the clubs needed to utilize every room possible to keep kids in pods and to give every child the ability to connect to their classrooms virtually. This is where the clubs’ long-time relationship with Comcast in the area helped to not only overcome this obstacle, but to set up kids for virtual learning for the long haul.
The timing couldn’t have worked out better as Comcast had just announced a $1 billion multiyear initiative to close the digital divide, and as part of that commitment, the internet service provider announced it would install over 1,000 Lift Zones throughout the country. Comcast Lift Zones offer robust Wi-Fi access in community locations including small businesses, parks, nonprofits, and neighborhood hubs that serve vulnerable populations.
After seeing that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston fit the criteria that Comcast was looking for to help connect as many people as possible to high-speed internet, Comcast Sr. Director of Government Affairs in the Houston region Melinda Little reached out to invite the organization to become an official Lift Zone partner. “We guaranteed to do this for three years,” said Little. “And these Lift Zones are powered by Comcast Business Internet and a set of security solutions based on the unique connectivity needs of each location. They were set up to ensure that when people get online, they are very secure.”
“Comcast stepped up to fill a gap,” said Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston President & CEO Kevin Hattery. “The Comcast Lift Zones gave us the opportunity to ensure the entire footprint [in a club] was covered so that places like the gymnasium, where you never thought could be used as a learning space, could now be used that way.”
Indy Barnes is a parent who benefited from being able to send her twin sons to their club location all of last year while she worked during the day. “It was a blessing for them to be able to attend the club when their school was closed,” said Barnes. “It became a learning environment, and the kids were able to adapt to it.” It also helped that Barnes trusted the club’s staff to look after the health and safety of her kids. “My sons are also a lot more tech-savvy now,” she added about their experience from the past year.
That trust that community members have with the club’s staff is an important component behind the success of Comcast’s internet adoption programs and services. Comcast External Communications Manager for the Houston Region Misha McClure explained that neighborhood organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston know the needs of their communities best because they are out there interacting with families every day, and serve as communications vehicles when it comes to informing them about Internet Essentials—Comcast’s successful broadband adoption program—and initiatives like the Lift Zones. It’s why the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Houston is such a valuable partner for Comcast. “When you leverage strong relationships within a community like this, it makes all the difference in the world,” said McClure. These relationships are even more important in areas like greater Houston. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston serve over 30,000 kids each year, with over 98% coming from low-income households and 96% being youth of color.
And while the clubs are now back to operating as after-school programs since many schools have resumed in-person classes, the Comcast Lift Zones will continue to offer robust internet connectivity so that school-aged kids, like the Barnes twins, can go online at the end of the school day to complete their homework or to go back to virtual learning if necessary. As the lessons of the past year have gleaned, the need for a high-speed internet connection is not going away. With more partnerships like the ones forged between the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Houston and Comcast, communities can be better equipped to serve the unique needs of their communities—even during the most vulnerable of times.
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