By Michaela Rush
Originally appeared in Dallas Free Press
Tucked inside the Innercity Community Development Corporation (ICDC) offices off Spring Avenue is a new Connected Dallas “anchor site” for technology access and training for South Dallas neighbors. Here, residents can receive free one-on-one help from trained professionals, access to high-speed internet, help applying for local and federal benefits, and all of their technology questions answered.
“This program helps residents to become self-reliant,” ICDC founder, former councilwoman and lifetime South Dallas resident Diane Ragsdale said at the opening ceremony. “It recognizes, without reservation, that we cannot even begin to become self reliant if we are not connected.”
Connected Dallas is a two-year program of the Dallas Innovation Alliance (DIA) that aims to bridge the digital divide in communities by giving people “access to opportunities that a digital connection provides.” It launched in August 2022 with $1 million from AT&T to target 10,000 community members.
Since last year, DIA says Connected Dallas has served over 3,000 individuals in 37 zip codes and 14 city council districts through their citywide pop-up sites.
“I light up like a Christmas tree when I’m working with people that didn’t know they could get a discount on their internet bill, or speak to a social worker that could help them get a background-friendly job,” Erika Arcos, a site guide for the program, says. “Being able to connect these people with resources they didn’t know were out there, that’s the most rewarding part.”
The South Dallas neighborhood has been the program’s main focus, as it touches three of the city’s five least-connected zip codes, DIA executive director and co-founder Jennifer Sanders says.
At the ICDC anchor site in the Mill City neighborhood, open Monday to Thursday from noon-5 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m., site guides are ready to help neighbors access resources via online platforms, such as enrolling in Medicare or Medicaid, scheduling a GoLink through DART or accessing AARP benefits.
The program also offers neighbors assistance with applications for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a $30 monthly discount on broadband internet connection at home. Connected Dallas provides in-person support for this application process, both at the ICDC anchor site and through weekly pop-ups at South Dallas’ Martin Luther King Jr. library branch.
Program manager Francisco Gallegos says that many community members don’t know that they’re eligible for the discount, and highlights that families with children who qualify for free or reduced lunch and households with an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible.
Additionally, residents can qualify for the Affordable Connectivity Program if you or someone in your household:
- Is enrolled in SNAP, WIC, or other federal assistance programs
- Receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Is on Medicaid
- Receives veterans pension or survivors benefits
- Qualifies for free or reduced lunch
Once an applicant is approved, the discount still has to be applied to their contract with whatever home internet provider they use, which makes the process more complicated. Arcos says applicants don’t need to go through the process alone.
“Having the different options is helpful, because if one doesn’t work out … they have the option of going another route,” Arcos says.
While reporting this story, we visited the new South Dallas anchor site on five different occasions hoping to see how neighbors were interacting with the services, but no neighbors were on site during these times. Gallegos says this may be because the location is so new. As of publication, DIA says the anchor site has served 47 visitors since it opened in August.
Ragsdale noted at the opening celebration that in years prior, they “saw a number of people in the parking lot, against the wall on the outside, trying to access the WiFi. And these were adults, youth and children. And so what we did was try to develop a computer literacy program upstairs.
“But it became clear that the need was overwhelming and we didn’t have the capacity to do such,” Ragsdale continued. “So now, thanks be to God, DIA has come forward.”
DIA aims to open seven more anchor sites by spring 2024. Gallegos says locations are identified through an application process, and ICDC was chosen because of its reputation in the neighborhood.
“There’s a high level of trust, and folks have, for years, turned to ICDC as a resource for them to address questions that pertain to home ownership,” Gallegos says. “Digital inclusion does tend to intersect with any and all sectors, so our job is to make it very clear that it will help [with anything].”
Gallegos says that as these sites open, they are seeking part-time employees, preferably from the same zip code.
Francisco Gallegos, who was interviewed for this story, has since left his position at Connected Dallas.