Delray Beach on verge of providing free Wi-Fi to trouble neighborhoods

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - Delray Beach is a step closer tonight to narrowing an inequality the city says blocks hundreds of its residents from getting information, vital services and jobs.

The mayor says too many homes have no Internet access. Devastating in an age when everything can be done online.

"This is crucial for the city," said mayor Woodie McDuffie.

The city commission approved $135,000 to pay for wireless boosters to be installed in its west side neighborhoods.

Much of the work is being done in a classroom at S.D. Spady, run by computer teacher Elizabeth Henry.

After three years, Ms. Henry's class has fixed up nearly thirty school district's old computers, installing wireless cards and software to give the computers second lives, in homes where a computer is unaffordable.

"It'll help kids do things they could never do," said class participant Christian Deyoe.

The computers are made available to the school's students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

Danylo Joboham, who - until his family was given one of the refurbished computers - was one of ten percent of Spady students who lived without internet access.

His mom struggles to pay a $10-a-month Internet bill to Comcast, but she's willing to sacrifice so he can do better in school.

"I'm always getting my work done because of the computer," said Joboham.

The mayor estimates 15,000 residents live in the neighborhoods that could get the free wireless access.

Anyone will be able to sign on, but students of S.D. Spady will be the only ones eligible for the free computers.

"Everything is all digital. You can't lose that way. If the kid says 'mom, I don't have my book,'  you say, ' you have it on the computer,'" said teacher Elizabeth Henry.

For Ms. Henry's sixth-grade helpers, Christian and Sydney, their work feels urgent.

Sydney has watched his own father apply for jobs online. He feels as though he's giving others a shot, to have a shot.

"The children get to have it, and so do the parents, it makes me feel good to see those little smiles on their face," said Henry.

In order for a family to get a computer, they have to go through one of Ms. Henry's computer training courses, which includes Internet safety for children.

Mayor McDuffie, who has been pushing the Digital Divide project since 2009, says he hopes to have the wireless Internet up and running by early next school year.

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