The Patterson Foundation’s Digital Navigator Program has created many new opportunities for people to learn, practice, and innovate since it launched in the summer of 2021. During the second cohort, which wrapped in June 2022, the chance to put a new spin on a tested digital navigation strategy presented itself organically, as one of the nonprofits in training, FUNducation, Inc., was trying out its wings in the community.

A board of five members leads FUNducation, Inc., with program delivery staffed by the Founder and Executive Director, Neirda Thompson-Pemberton. When Thompson-Pemberton volunteered to become part of the Digital Navigator Program, she anticipated a learning curve but perhaps not one as long. “Every case is different,” said Thompson-Pemberton. “That makes getting comfortable with the steps to connect someone even more challenging.”

While FUNducation, Inc. can often be seen working with students on STEAM in the community, they engage less with adults. Leveraging public places with high traffic to inform people about affordable internet options and getting them connected is nothing new in the digital equity space, but it was for FUNducation, Inc. “We didn’t feel comfortable just yet hosting an event on our own and working with clients. We wanted Maribel’s support,” said Thompson-Pemberton. Maribel Martinez, a consultant with The Patterson Foundation’s Digital Access for All initiative and Digital Navigator Program lead, helped get the program off the ground in 2021. Part of the model is to ensure new Digital Navigators get as much support as possible after initial training to come into their own with the strategies to get people connected to affordable broadband, computers, and digital skills training. “Together, we brainstormed leveraging technology for a hybrid session since Maribel couldn’t be with us on the date I reserved library space,” said Thompson-Pemberton. “We came up with the idea that Maribel could join virtually on an extra computer right next to me. Library patrons could see and talk with her, and she could help me troubleshoot with an application if I got stuck.”

Small nonprofits like FUNducation, Inc. that want to help narrow the digital divide benefit from innovations on tested methods for connecting people in the community. “The hybrid model is the equivalent of having another trained Digital Navigator on site, which allows us to handle more clients than we thought possible,” added Thompson-Pemberton.

The ability to incorporate a safety net for new Digital Navigators while also adding capacity to increase the volume of clients who receive help with an affordable internet application is a key factor in helping them experience success with digital navigation. The hybrid event model is also an excellent way for Digital Navigators to walk the talk when it comes to technology use. FUNducation, Inc. leveraged videoconferencing, one of the most popular ways to communicate today. It creates an ideal talking point for Digital Navigators to share more about how they can use those tools effectively and easily in their own lives.

FUNducation, Inc., having completed the Digital Navigator Program, is now part of The Patterson Foundation’s Digital Navigator network, which comprises five other nonprofits and over 20 Digital Navigators who have also experienced the training and implementation. “Yes! We will keep using the hybrid event strategy! It allows for convenient and efficient service to clients and support for FUNducation, Inc. to reach more communities.”

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