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Jun 28, 2024

Community Facilities Receive More Than $12M Million to Help Close the Digital Divide

PORTLAND – The Maine Connectivity Authority today awarded more than $12 million in grants to fund digital improvements to 12 community organizations across Maine.

The grants are part of the Maine Connectivity Authority’s Connectivity Hubs Program, which will help community anchor institutions – such as libraries, community centers, municipal and tribal buildings, and affordable housing developments – provide workforce training, education and telehealth services in areas most impacted by a lack of access to high-speed internet. The Connectivity Hubs Program is funded through the ARPA Capital Projects Funds from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

“Ensuring Americans have access to reliable, high-speed internet is crucial to helping families succeed in the 21st century economy,” said Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “This investment is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments to unlock economic opportunities for everyone and to ensure families have access to critical work, education, and health care services.”

Grants were awarded for capital improvements to community anchor institutions, funding construction, renovation and essential assets like affordable devices for public access and lending programs. These improvements will create space for people to access educational and workforce training programs, use telehealth to improve access to care, and provide access to high-speed internet, computers, and technical support, especially for those facing the most barriers to connecting.

Connectivity Hub investments are part of MCA’s strategy to advance digital equity for all: to ensure that all Maine people have access to and are able to use information and communications technologies so they can fully realize the civic, economic, health, educational, social and other benefits that they provide.

“There’s no single solution that will make fast, reliable internet available to everyone in Maine who wants it,” said Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority. “But we know that the digital divide has the biggest negative impact on people living in rural communities, older Mainers, veterans, people with disabilities and other marginalized populations. The Connectivity Hub program makes critical investments in community organizations so they can help all people in Maine fully realize the civic, economic, health, educational, and social benefits of that connection.”

The twelve organizations receiving grant awards include:

Aroostook Agency on Aging, Presque Isle, $400,989
Bridgton Public Library, Bridgton, $250,000
Caribou Public Library, $1,847,528
Franklin County Adult and Community Education, Farmington, $1,773,574
Hope Association, Rumford, $279,112
Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Houlton, $1,247,639
Mano en Mano, Milbridge, $1,784,497
Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk, $545,612
Seniors Plus, Lewiston, $900,000
St. George Municipal School Unit, Tenants Harbor, $684,715
Town of Stonington, Stonington, $1,753,420
YWCA Central Maine, Lewiston, $651,928

Following an open interest form, 15 projects were invited to submit a full application. Each awarded organization serves multiple covered populations, with a focus on individuals residing in rural areas. Additionally, it has expertise in delivering services to aging individuals, veterans, those facing language barriers, individuals with low literacy, members of racial or ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, low-income households and incarcerated/formerly incarcerated individuals.

Quotes from Partners:

Linda Nelson, Economic & Community Development Director, Town of Stonington
"This Connectivity Hub program grant is essential to our shared community vision for moving Stonington and the regional fishing communities for which it is already a service center into a bright and shining future. We are an area rich in services, yet they remain fragmented and disconnected for too many. The Hub – or DISCOHub as we have named it (for Deer Isle-Stonington Community Organizations Hub) – will close these divides by centralizing access to resources, connectivity, and new technologies that are central to the Town's Economic Resiliency Strategy: workforce pathways, education, and health monitoring specific to coastal communities. This amazing funding will turn a historic, 1905 school building into a shining portal to the future through navigation services, tools and support for the climate, workforce, and healthcare transitions we are experiencing."

Jon Solomon, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Border Towns
The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians expresses gratitude for being chosen as a recipient of the Maine Connectivity Authority Grant. This funding will enable us to expand our current youth center, providing a much-needed space for teenagers and young adults. The grant ensures our
community will have a year-round hub for digital access.

Juana Rodriguez Vazquez, Executive Director, Mano en Mano
This is a huge step towards advancing digital equity in Maine. This support will be crucial as we work to connect folks in the Downeast with the trainings, devices and spaces needed to promote economic, health, and educational opportunities. This brings us one step closer to closing the digital divide for multilingual communities in rural Maine and provides resources for learners of all ages, language and backgrounds to come together to learn and grow.

Sally Dunning, Bridgton Public Library Board of Trustees President
Bridgton Public Library is gratified to receive this generous grant from the Maine Connectivity Authority. Recognition from this well-respected organization validates our mission and vision of bringing lifelong learning, literacy, and digital equity to Bridgton and the surrounding communities.

Clara McCool, Regional Broadband Program Manager, Greater Portland Council of Governments
The Bridgton Public Library has been a key member of the Cumberland County Digital Inclusion Coalition for the past year and a half. In our work with Bridgton Public Library, we’ve learned just how crucial a resource they are to community members in the region. Individuals who don’t have access at home visit the library to use their Wi-Fi and public access computers to download forms and applications, create and print documents, check email, complete online applications, or print things from their phones or laptops. As Cumberland County’s Regional and Tribal Broadband Partner, we believe awarding Bridgton Public Library a Connectivity Hub grant will increase digital equity for residents throughout our region and help us in implementing our Cumberland County Digital Inclusion Plan.

Project summaries:

St. George Municipal School Unit: The St. George Career & Technical Education Makerspace Connectivity Hub will provide an innovative model for delivering online learning, workforce training, and telehealth services to communities impacted by the digital divide. The Connectivity Hub will bring together educational institutions, medical providers, local government, nonprofits and businesses to create a network of interconnected services including online workforce training and hands-on skills application; telehealth and community paramedicine; and digital literacy and data analytics courses.

Seniors Plus: As an anchor institution in the Lewiston-Auburn metropolitan area, the SeniorsPlus Education Center and Nutrition Facility serves older adults and adults with disabilities in the twin cities, as well as the surrounding rural communities. At this newly constructed site, clients will access telehealth, evidenced-based preventive health and monitoring activities as well as a myriad of enrichment offerings. Workforce development and job fairs will focus on the unique needs and characteristics of older workers. Free Wi-Fi access and technology support will be offered with security and safety ensured.

Passamaquoddy Tribe at Motahkomikuk: The Passamaquoddy Workforce Recovery & Community Connection Office will expand the current Youth Wellness Court/Adult Education building allowing the expanded services of workforce recovery programming, a Tribal Broadband office and teleconference room. The facility will also provide access to high-speed fiber internet, on-site public devices, a device lending program, technical support services and digital skills and internet safety education opportunities.

Franklin County Adult and Community Education: The Franklin County Adult and Community Educational Center project aims to establish a multifunctional community space that serves various needs, including digital equity, education, health care access and workforce development. The Community Center will increase access to essential services, reduce disparities and build community capacity to work collaboratively toward common goals of improved access to health, education and employment opportunities. Through technology resources, educational programs and partnerships, the center aims to empower adults to enhance their digital literacy, engage in civic participation, access health care and pursue educational and career advancement.

Mano en Mano: The Mano en Mano Connectivity Hub and Community Center will expand Mano en Mano’s existing programming to create a stronger and more inclusive Maine. Funding will support the purchase and renovations on current office space, and provide the organization with additional space to build a state-of-the-art computer lab and community center that connects folks in rural Downeast Maine to vital services and resources so that workforce, education and health monitoring are accessible to all. The new facility will provide access to high-speed fiber internet, devices on site and to loan, digital skills classes, internet safety education, educational support and workforce readiness training in both Spanish and English for students, families and community members in our rural community.

YWCA Central Maine: YWCA Central Maine’s Connectivity Hub will enhance access to workforce development programs, health and wellness services, and provide low-barrier access to educational opportunities to underserved communities by addressing the digital divide in the Lewiston-Auburn community. YWCA will advance digital equity by providing low-barrier access to digital technology by providing devices on-site and to loan, high-speed internet, as well as by providing hybrid learning opportunities and educational programs such as workforce education programs that teach digital skills, as well as health and wellness resources.

Aroostook Agency on Aging: The TechConnect Hub brings a new opportunity to the communities served by the Aroostook Agency on Aging, allowing the organization to expand its role to include digital connectivity. By increasing publicly accessible technology infrastructure and services, the grant will create a stronger foundation for the current and future delivery of innovative digital programming to older adults, individuals with disabilities and their care partners. The TechConnect Hub will support workforce, education and health monitoring programs designed to promote wellness in aging for residents of northernmost Maine, offering high-speed Internet access, a variety of devices for use on site or for loan, skill-building classes and online safety classes.

Bridgton Public Library: Bridgton Public Library will be completing a renovation and expansion project that maintains the original historic building while modernizing the public spaces to meet the needs of Bridgton and the surrounding areas. With this Connectivity Hub project, the library will add small, private meeting spaces for telehealth, workforce development and continuing education opportunities, as well as modernize and improve our community meeting spaces for larger workshop opportunities. We will continue to offer public access computers, improve our free and open wifi, free technology workshops and one-on-one assistance, and build upon these successes with new and innovative partnerships to implement the State of Maine Digital Inclusion Plan at the local level.

Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians: The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians is embarking on a transformative project to enhance its youth center, prioritizing dedicated space for teenagers and physical activities. This renovation initiative will establish a specialized area tailored to teen needs, providing academic, emotional and physical support in a safe community environment. The facility will also offer high-speed fiber internet, on-site device access and lending, digital skills classes and internet safety education, crucial for preparing our youth for the workforce.

Town of Stonington: The Stonington Connectivity Hub transforms a beloved, historic 1905 school building into a world-class facility on the state’s most productive working waterfront: a fully-accessible central gathering place for the region’s marine-based community-in-transition, connecting a diverse group of disadvantaged audiences to programs and services in three critical areas: community education, workforce pathways and digital equity focused on health monitoring and senior programs. This supported walk-in location will also provide equitable digital access to connectivity, devices to loan, skills support, and internet safety education, serving as a critical anchor institution for our island's Main Street "Upper Village" development area.

Hope Association: Hope Association and Region 9 Adult Education will partner to create a Region 9 Adult Ed and Hope Association Education and Technology Hub that will provide workforce, education, telehealth, enrichment, technology and internet safety programs to low-income, veteran, disabled, minority and older populations within the River Valley community. This building only requires renovations and equipment to expand on current offerings and create a “one stop shop” for individuals looking to take their HiSET, receive technology help and education, take enrichment classes and/or learn and use devices to attend health appointments remotely.

Caribou Public Library: The Caribou Public Library Digital Commons project seeks to expand the services of the library by transforming the existing space into a state-of-the-art Connectivity Hub to improve digital skills and increase the internet connectivity, and skill sets, of our community. The inclusion of a conference room as a community gathering space and private telehealth rooms will provide the community with access to a revolutionary facility to meet their health care and workforce needs, while a high-quality media center will be used for the improvement of digital literacy skills and promotion of workforce advancement and opportunity through the increased capacity for digital literacy courses and workforce training.

Established in 2021, the Maine Connectivity Authority is the agency funded through a combination of federal and state resources. MCA is charged with achieving the universal access of affordable high-speed broadband in Maine.

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