Jay and Westfield, located in the state’s “Northeast Kingdom” near the Canadian border, share common north/south town borders, and depend heavily on natural resources such as farms, forests and mountains for economic development. Cooperative relationships among the towns’ residents, municipal offices and community organizations can account for the growing success of a community-based digital literacy training program there.
Members of the Jay and Westfield volunteer steering committees knew their citizens needed more access to computers and worked with the e-Vermont project to purchase computer equipment and teach residents how to use it. They requested and received a set of five laptops and a mobile computer cart from e-Vermont, then recruited several local, computer-savvy volunteers to teach classes at the Jay town hall and the Westfield community center. The coordination and training team includes Peggy Loux, Geegee Zavison, Ladonna Dunn, Sue Newman, Mary Brenner, Carrie Young and Ron James, who also provides tech support.
The team found that the majority of people seeking computer training are older adults who may be too shy about attending a workshop. So the program was initially geared toward one-on-one training sessions which are coordinated by Geegee Zavison. Getting the word out about the program included handing out flyers at Town Meeting and putting notices in the local paper. Interested persons call either Jay or Westfield’s town offices for referral to Geegee, who schedules the trainer and trainee sessions.
Response to the program was promising and several people signed up for personal sessions. Coordinators stated that because of e-Vermont and the training program, other people in town are also getting on the tech train including one select board member who recently purchased an iPad!
Computers were also added to the Jay town office and the Westfield library, and both are seeing an increase in usage. A Jay resident who participated in small business workshops offered by the e-Vermont partner, VT Small Business Development Center, is using the public computer at the Jay office to start his own art business.
The coordination team knows there is interest in both towns for more computer training, and feels that when enough people receive the basic one-on-one, they will be ready to attend a workshop. Ideas abound for advanced classes to meet particular needs, such as how to use Excel for managing data lists, job searching on the Internet, or how to write a resume. They are also thinking about recruiting students to teach a few basic courses.
In coming months the team will be working to expand the outreach needed to raise awareness and increase participation, which may eventually include surrounding communities like Troy and Lowell as well. There is no budget or town-funded line item for the program, so they will need to rely on word of mouth, Front Porch Forum, and notices posted in the library, town offices and transfer station to spread the word. Key times of year such as dog license renewals and quarterly property taxes could be useful for distributing promotional flyers also.
What is certain for Jay and Westfield is the continuation of computer training programs after the e-Vermont Project ends. These towns are excellent examples of collaboration and resource sharing, in order to create opportunities for their citizens that by themselves wouldn’t be possible.