People throughout West Virginia have easier access to computers and broadband Internet thanks to the Future Generations Graduate School, which has been managing an ongoing program in West Virginia that establishes free computer labs in local fire departments.
The program, called the West Virginia Broadband Opportunities Program, started in 2010, and it is funded by a 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant.
Future Generations Communications Coordinator Mike Mallow said the program has been a great success.
Sharon Bonnett, computer lab mentor at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department, shows a patron how to use his email account in Rock Cave.
"So far, we have opened 55 broadband labs in West Virginia. We started with a goal of 60 and we expect to reach that number by June," Mallow said. "The whole process has gone really well."
The goal of the WVBO Program, Mallow said, is to provide better educational and economic opportunities for West Virginians, particularly those who live in rural areas that might not have broadband access, as well as give them better access to all of the different tools available through the Internet.
The program's website offers many examples of ways the Internet benefits people, such as the ease of communication through email or social media, the convenience and orderliness of online banking and job searching or the nearly limitless educational opportunities available online.
Mallow said that while each lab has received a different response, they have been received well overall.
"Some are hit and miss, but many of them just take off," Mallow said. "It all depends on the community."
Mallow mentioned the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department Lab in Rock Cave as an example of a of lab that has become a community centerpiece.
"I have hardly had to publicize the Banks District lab, because the community has been so excited about it. It really gets a lot of use," he said.
The grant for the project will run out in February 2013. However, the fire departments will get to keep all of the computer equipment and they can continue to operate the labs, if they choose to.
Mallow also said Future Generations is looking into securing a second grant that will enable it to continue to develop the current labs, as well as help with maintenance.
More information about the Future Generations West Virginia Broadband Opportunities Program, including lab locations throughout the region, is available at www.futurewv.org or 877-358-2484. Future Generations is located in Circleville.
Contact Joe Hoover by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.