As part of its COVID relief efforts, the Jewish United Fund has provided $250,000 in seed funding to jumpstart a ground-breaking initiative to expand digital access for low-income households throughout the state.
The State of Illinois is launching a statewide network to deploy refurbished computers, digital literacy programming, and workforce development through a unique partnership with PCs for People-- a national nonprofit providing refurbished devices-- along with JUF, Cook County, and other community partners.
"In our state of nearly 4.9 million households, an estimated 1.1 million of them currently do not have access to a computer," said Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker. "That means that 1.1 million families can't connect and communicate by email, use e-learning resources, do a job search, work online from home, or pay bills electronically. So I'm announcing a first-of-its-kind statewide initiative to put computers into the hands of those who need them."
The new Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network aims to put computers and other mobile devices into the hands of underserved Illinois residents, assisting more families with access to high-speed internet that is essential for e-learning, remote work, and telehealth.
"In the context of the pandemic, [JUF] saw an immediate need for these resources, and I want to personally thank them for committing $250,000 to the computer equity network," Governor Pritzker said, noting that the seed money brings the state one step closer to ensuring that all Illinoisans can participate in the 21st century's digital economy.
"Digital access is a lifeline, not only for students learning remotely, but for all individuals and families," said Lonnie Nasatir, JUF President. "Technology can help lift up underserved communities with equal access to vital tools and information, serving as a catalyst to keep people connected and thriving.
"In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, it is especially important to JUF and our Jewish community that we reach out to our neighbors who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and for whom access to technology and employment opportunities will be a vital equalizer going forward," Nasatir said. "That's why we are proud to join Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois as founding partners in launching this life-changing initiative."
PCs for People will operate the network with close involvement of the Illinois Office of Broadband and various community partners. The statewide network will include two central warehouse locations, one in southern Cook County and the other in the Metro East Region. Each centralized warehouse location will receive, refurbish, and redistribute computers for use by low-income households around the state.
"The pandemic has shown millions of homes do not have the connectivity needed for education, information, and remote work," said PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen. "We are honored to partner with Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois, businesses donating technology, and an array of community partners to get devices and support to thousands of residents across the state at a time of great need."
To further expand digital access across the state, the Governor has issued call to action to public, private, and philanthropic sectors to donate used equipment and build on a network already set to deploy at least 20,000 refurbished computers annually for Illinois families.
For more information on how to recycle technology or to apply for an upgraded device, please visit
. Linda S. Haase is Senior Associate Vice President of Marketing Communications for the Jewish United Fund of Chicago.