Demonstrating community impact well beyond its iconic thrift stores, the Seattle region’s Evergreen Goodwill of Northwest Washington today launched its state-of-the-art “Digital Equity Bus,” which will bring Goodwill’s computer literacy and workforce development classes to people in rural and historically under-resourced communities.
Bridging the “digital divide” has long been a part of Goodwill’s mission. But according to the Washington State Department of Commerce, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the impact of that divide for 45 percent of the state’s residents who either have no internet access or are coping with very slow internet speeds. The Digital Equity Bus allows Evergreen Goodwill to extend its mission programming to reach even more people during this critical time when many people now rely on access to technology and Wi-Fi for work and school.
Designed in partnership with Black & Veatch, the mobile classroom spans 36 feet in length and features workstations for as many as 10 students and multiple instructors, complete with a retractable awning that creates exterior classroom space for as many as 30 additional students. It also comes equipped with power outlets, wireless connectivity, charging stations, pop-up chairs and tables, and sound-amplifying equipment, as well as specialized equipment to make the classroom more accessible.
“The Digital Equity Bus is an exciting extension of the work we’ve been committed to for 12-plus years,” said Eileen Aparis, Vice President of Mission for Evergreen Goodwill. “For nearly a century, Evergreen Goodwill’s mission has been to break down significant barriers to education and employment, and with the acceleration of technology in the workplace, we’ve been at the forefront of digital equity work by providing free computer classes and access to technology. This bus will allow us to expand our reach well beyond Evergreen Goodwill’s five brick-and-mortar Job Training and Education Centers.”
The Digital Equity Bus will begin its journey in Whatcom County, where 86 percent of Evergreen Goodwill students report having no internet access. Beginning in April 2022, the bus will host workshops in partnership with the Nooksack School District and East Whatcom Resource Center, with Evergreen Goodwill actively building relationships with other rural communities for future programming.
Evergreen Goodwill and Black & Veatch hope that the bus can serve as a model for other organizations engaged in digital equity work and that, if successful, there would be opportunity to build out additional buses to serve other counties across the region.
“For more than a century, Black & Veatch has led the way in delivering critical human infrastructure that enhances the lives of the customers and communities we serve. That mission of betterment is a shared one with Evergreen Goodwill,” said Marty Travers, a Black & Veatch executive director. “We’re also both deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and this Digital Equity Bus will bring opportunities directly to the underserved who desire and deserve them.”