Bridging the Divide

Bridging the Divide

Tobytown’s computer lab opens.

Donnell Wilson will now be able to do his homework closer to home. The 16-year-old Wootton student will now have access to a new computer lab at the Tobytown Community Center, courtesy of the Montgomery County Council. “It will be good to be able to use the Internet,” Wilson said.

During the last budget, Councilmember Steven Silverman (D-At Large) was able to include $35,000 for the purchase of computers and peripheral equipment.

“Steve Silverman came to me and said, ‘Let me know if I can help,’” said Alison Bryant, commissioner on the Planning Board and member of Friends of Tobytown.

Bryant then mentioned that the computers in the center were outdated and unable to access the Internet. “Allison is a very hard person to say no to,” Silverman said.

So, during the final portion of the county budget process, Silverman included the grant to address Tobytown’s “digital divide. “Budgets are really about priorities, they’re not really about money,” Silverman said. “The thing that was front and center was the digital divide.”

The digital divide is a term that has been coined to reflect the difference in access to and proficiency with high-tech equipment. Studies have shown that African-Americans typically have a lower access rate to the Internet. The lab hopes to address this issue in this historically African-American neighborhood.

Tobytown is geographically isolated and does not have access to public transportation. There are plans for a shuttle bus that would get residents into the area of the Potomac Village, but the bus will not likely be available for several months. Some residents therefore have a difficult time getting to the library to do research, but now, they will be able to do so just steps away from their homes.

“You’ve got this wonderful equipment, which opens up the world to you,” said Norman Cohen, a commissioner of the Housing Opportunities Commission, which operates the center. “The computer offers access to just about everything.”

The center will be open more often to be able to accommodate the needs of residents, since the Tobytown Homeowners Association will be taking over the responsibility for it.

Homeowners Association president Phyllis Shaw hopes to open the center every day, but the details have not been determined.

Residents are excited about the new opportunities which are now within easy reach. “I’m hoping that it’s going to really help the kids,” Shaw. “They don’t have to go to the library [to use a computer] any more.”