It all started last fall, when the Tulsa Area United Way got a large donation of used laptops from local business, Hilti and set up an application process for agencies like ours to get them. We were lucky enough to get 40 to use at our Center of Hope. This left us with a bit of a problem though, the laptops needed wi-fi for our clients to check them out and use them but the only wi-fi we had at the facility was in our administrative area and wasn’t set up as a public network.
This spurred us into action and we asked for a grant to cover the cost to do all the “techy” things needed to turn a 70,000 sq/ft. building into a hot spot for guests. Thankfully, The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary provided the funds needed. As we were ironing out the security features, our guests could see the public network appearing on their devices and they started getting excited! Questions flowed to our staff about what the guest network was and when it would be available.
During the first week we had the wi-fi available (with no promotion/signage at all) we had an average of about 100 guests a night utilizing the network. This may be very surprising to some, but many of the guests staying at the shelter keep mobile phones for necessary contact with work and family but they cannot afford the data packages required to surf the internet via a mobile device. Our main overnight population is required to stay in the facility after check-in which means that from 6p.m. to 6a.m. they haven’t had access to email, web, news, etc. Now they can spend that time looking for housing, completing schoolwork, playing games to pass the time and communicating with family and friends.
We are currently soliciting funding to expand the technology program at the Center by building an on-site computer lab. This lab would be accessible to all clients with designated hours for after-school homework time. Besides general internet access and other basic functions, clients will also have the opportunity to enroll in useful courses, taught by community volunteers and Center of Hope staff.
I hope you can share in my excitement! We are so proud to be the first shelter in Tulsa offering this service. It improves the quality of life for many and gives them something that we all take for granted!