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Essential Families works to bridge digital divide

Essential Families
Posted at 7:51 AM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 09:09:14-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Terri English-Yancy comes from a long line of Kansas City natives.

"My grandmother, she lived all up and down 39th street: Highland, Wabash, Flora, so I would always go to their house over the summer," Yancy said. "My mother went to Wendell Phillips, which is right across the street."

Right across the street from Wendell Phillips Elementary near 24th and Prospect, is an idea Yancy brought to life: Essential Families.

Essential Families is a nonprofit that provides wrap around services and resources for families in need, specifically highlighting ways to bridge the digital divide and provide more internet access.

"I've always had the need to work with children and families in some capacity," Yancy said. "So I just felt the need to why not make sure our families in our communities have the access to what they need so they can grow and thrive cause we're here to strengthen the families."

The organization provided resources and assistance for parents like Essence Prince- Lewis, a mom of two, who was in need of a laptop and also looking for a job.

"I was able to get a laptop and finish my actual classes that I was taking," Prince-Lewis said. "I got my medical billing and coding so I was able to finish those classes."

Essential families later hired Prince-Lewis as a digital navigator, working with other families and assisting them in the digital world.

"I was signing up for this program and I didn't know that it would be as beneficial to me as it has been," Prince-Lewis said.

Prince-Lewis was one of 69 families - a part of Essential Families' pilot program last November, Essential Broadband Program, funded in part by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation.

"We found the data that showed about 18,000 families in the third district do not have a laptop computer," Yancy said. "And so what we did with Essential Families during our pilot, we were at the Lucile Bluford library and we provided laptop computers, the training, the ACP enrollment and our families told us what they needed."

It was just in a small targeted area.

"From 9th and Prospect and Gregory and Prospect and it was east to Indiana and west to The Paseo, but now we serve the masses," Yancy said. "We're in Jackson county, 23 counties ...we do this and really the goal is to take this nationwide."

After the pilot program ended this past February, the wait list for assistance was 153 people. That wait list is now just under 300.

"And we will serve them," Yancy said.

The organization also provides wrap around services, including mental health sessions, and parental education support.

"Cause our mission is strengthening families that are essential to our communities, city and state and everything starts at home," Yancy said.

Construction on the Essential Families' office is set to wrap up by the end of the summer. The office will include a community center where they can host trainings for families, play groups for parent education clients and provide more digital access for families in the area.

The organization says they're currently looking for donations to support families in need and provide them the resources in order to help bridge the digital divide in Kansas City.