Hosea Born cares deeply about rural communities and sees their potential for growth. Originally from Southwest Missouri, Hosea attended the University of Arkansas and moved to Hope, Arkansas after graduating to become an Arkansas Teacher Corps fellow. His time as a middle school teacher and volunteer firefighter showed him how much rural areas have to offer, but that a lack of resources poses challenges to achieving their potential.
To address this challenge, Hosea will serve as an American Connection Corps fellow with the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District (SAPDD), based out of Magnolia. SAPDD helps communities across 12 counties access the resources necessary for growth. One of Hosea’s goals for the fellowship, he says, “is to help businesses utilize the internet to help grow the community and their own businesses.”
In Magnolia, Hosea will act as a liaison between SAPDD, broadband providers, and the community on broadband development projects, and will help providers and communities determine the financial viability of broadband projects.
In connecting local communities to broadband and helping small businesses identify opportunities for growth and communication, Hosea hopes to play a role in helping “Southwest Arkansas come together and grow.”
Having grown up just 45 minutes from Peoria, Grace is no stranger to the issues facing Central Illinois. After graduating from Saint Mary’s College in 2021, Grace knew she wanted to work in a job where she could help others, saying, “I was really motivated to find a career that specifically entailed some aspect of service.”
Grace recently returned home to serve as an American Connection Corps fellow with the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council (GPEDC), a role she calls “a perfect fit.” There, she’s tackling one of the greatest challenges facing her local community: internet access.
In Peoria, Grace collaborates with GPEDC staff on various aid program offerings to determine feasibility and eligibility for said programs. She also provides digital navigation and technical literacy support to the community in tandem with local partner organizations. She enjoys hearing people’s stories and understanding their experiences, saying that “one of the greatest things a leader can have is the ability to first listen and understand.”
Additionally, to ensure Peorians can find affordable connections and devices, Grace will perform outreach to local educational institutions to help them take advantage of the Emergency Connectivity Fund. She also hopes to help expand the Illinois Office of Broadband’s “PCs for People” program to Peoria. She’s motivated by her belief in service and giving back to the community that raised her, stating “Not only do I get to serve those around me and try to help make our community stronger, but I also get to serve those who have helped build me into the person I am today.”
Expanding internet access is personal for Codi Drake. Growing up in the marshlands of rural western Tennessee, Codi remembers his mother taking time off work so they could go to the public library in town and use the internet there for homework and other needs. A recent graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Codi is remaining in his home state to serve as an American Connection Corps fellow with the Office of Performance Management and Open Data in the Chattanooga Mayor’s Office.
As a fellow, Codi is working to train a robust community of local government practitioners to bring broadband access and digital equity to their work throughout the city. “It’s important for me to stay here in Tennessee because our communities desperately need help in building broadband,” he says. He hopes to expand efforts already in place by the City of Chattanooga and build on the success story they’ve already started to write.
Codi will help the City improve its trainings on equity in broadband expansion, scale its impact, and make sure digital equity is a part of every aspect of the City’s work. Codi, in his words, sees his role as “one of a magnifier, rather than a catalyzer. I want to focus on expanding impacts, iterating efforts, and delivering better services.” In addition to fostering connections with other fellows through their shared goals, Codi is excited to work to close Tennessee’s digital divide and increase access to key government services for all Chattanoogans.
What do agriculture and broadband have in common? To Carly Fitz, both are intimately connected to rural Ohio and her upbringing in Perry County, where she’ll be an American Connection Corps fellow with the Buckeye Hills Regional Council (BHRC). Carly has grown up fighting for issues facing rural communities like her own, explaining, “I did 4-H, FFA, and a ton of agriculture advocacy through high school and college. Agriculture, like broadband connectivity, is a huge issue in rural communities.”
With the BHRC, Carly will assist the community in strategizing for broadband and fiber expansion and installation by building relationships with broadband providers, creating maps of existing broadband infrastructure, and locating funding programs for installation of new infrastructure. She is particularly looking forward to networking with like-minded people who share her passion for community service, and expanding her knowledge of “the hard skills regarding implementation and what that entails in order to bring opportunities to my community.” Carly’s commitment to expanding broadband and digital connectivity is deeply personal.
“Especially in the southern part of Perry County,” she says, “there’s hardly any cell service or internet access so I feel that if we were able to give these individuals the opportunity to have the access, we can increase economic and job opportunities, and the benefits would be tenfold after having the accessibility.”
Kaylan Freeman believes in the importance of staying local, which is why she is serving as an American Connection Corps fellow in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee with Innovate Memphis. Following her graduation from Rhodes College, Kaylan is returning to Memphis to serve the city’s residents by working to strengthen its broadband infrastructure. She sees her hometown roots as an asset to her service, saying, “the most immediate and lasting changes happen on the local level, and it’s only right for those making the decisions on that level to be from the community since they truly know its strengths and weaknesses.”
As a Broadband Coordinator, Kaylan’s primary objective will be promoting broadband infrastructure, “especially in light of the pandemic and a movement to more digital spaces.” She will support Innovate Memphis with communication, research, and messaging for the public, providers, government, and other stakeholders. Kaylan’s goal for her time as a fellow is to promote digital literacy throughout Memphis, particularly “in underrepresented communities in the city through providing access and knowledge to those communities.”
Kaylan’s motivation comes from a desire, in her words, to “do work that matters – work that impacts a community that I’m in.” She’s excited to work with others who have the same motivation, passion and drive to have a positive impact in their own communities.
Following her graduation from Washington University in St. Louis, Mary Gay is remaining in the area to serve as an American Connection Corps Fellow with the Leadership Council Southwest Illinois. In this role, Mary will assist in the implementation of the Illinois Connected Communities Strategic Plan Key Regional Priorities.
Mary will spearhead the development of a broadband grant “war room” from which the Leadership Council can identify funding sources, timelines, and criteria for available grants to expand broadband access. This will streamline the grant process to help relevant stakeholders understand which grants might be the best to bring resources to underserved communities. She’ll also assist in public policy research to drive enhanced broadband and internet access, adoption, and affordability.
Mary is excited for the learning opportunity her fellowship provides, saying, “Even though I came into this position not knowing a lot about broadband, the pandemic made it clear how vital strong internet connection is to thrive in today’s world. The more I learn about it the more motivated I am to make change in this area as a fellow.”
Originally hailing from Gainesville, Florida, Elizabeth Lima fell in love with Columbus during her four years at the Ohio State University. She’ll be staying in the city to serve as an American Connection Corps Fellow, where she will be placed with the Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (Rural LISC).
Elizabeth’s pursuit of economic justice through connection motivated her to seek out this fellowship. She was drawn to the work because, in her own words, “Ohio to an extent has been left behind. Columbus, where I’ve been for the last four years, is very economically prosperous, but cities like Toledo or Cleveland, a lot of them have started to fall behind.” She hopes that in Ohio, “economic, systemic issues could be alleviated or remedied by broadband development.”
Through her work with the Rural LISC’s Digital Equity programming, Elizabeth seeks to address these issues by supporting the deployment of programs to rural community-based nonprofits across the nation. She will also support the training of Digital Navigators within Rural LISC-supported cohorts by creating meeting agendas, providing technical assistance, and collecting and managing data. All in all, Elizabeth is motivated by the power of broadband access to connect communities, saying that “it can be a mechanism for economic opportunity which is an exciting way to tackle some economic justice issues throughout Ohio and nationwide.”
A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Maddie Long will continue her longstanding commitment to volunteer and nonprofit work through becoming an American Connection Corps fellow. She’s been tapped as the Director of Digital Equity in the Little Rock Mayor’s Office, where, she explains, she’ll “be working with the community and local governments to bridge gaps in access to the internet throughout the city.”
With the mayor’s office, Maddie will build upon the work already in progress to increase internet access, which has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as many were forced to work and learn from home. She’s proud of what has already been done to connect the people of Little Rock, including “creating hotspots in local parks and helping families access work from home and online schooling solutions.”
Maddie has a passion for place-based community engagement and learning, and is looking forward to working on digital literacy initiatives in Little Rock and responding to community needs. “I am excited about the range and nature of this work,” she says, “so that the residents of Little Rock may better pursue educational opportunities, economic empowerment, and civic engagement available through digital means.”
With roots in North Riverside, Illinois, Nathan Palmer will continue to serve the state he grew up in as an American Connection Corps fellow with PCs for People in Chicago. After graduating from Western Illinois University, Nathan is thrilled to return to his community and the people who supported him, saying, “My neighborhood and county are filled with people I care about. It is important to me that they and the people they care about are connected and okay.”
Nathan will work with PCs for People, an organization that is partnering with the Illinois Office of Broadband on the Connect Illinois Computer Equity Network to collect, refurbish and distribute electronics to those in need at no cost. He will also be tasked with promoting broadband adoption throughout Cook County and northern Illinois through partnership development and community outreach coordination.
Nathan’s motivation for pursuing this role stems from a recognition of the disparities in broadband access throughout the state, and a desire to change said disparities. In Illinois, “43% of the people affected by the digital divide live in Cook County and 17% of Black and Latinx households are unconnected,” Nathan says. “My goal is to see both of these numbers change drastically.”
Wesley Smith will have the unique opportunity to serve with three different partner organizations during his time as an American Connection Corps fellow. A recent graduate of the University of Tennessee, Wesley will continue to live and work in Knoxville with the Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Community Development Corporation, and the Knoxville Education Foundation.
Wesley will coordinate activities between the groups as the Broadband Project Coordinator. In this multifaceted role, Wesley looks forward to participating in the collaboration between these three organizations in what he sees as a “crash course in being able to get things done at the local level with high value stakeholder participation.” In his words, “each organization serves the local community in a bit of a different way,” which gives him the chance to see how they all can come together to accomplish a shared goal. He’ll assist in the advancement of Knox County’s broadband development efforts and connect members of the community to broadband benefits and programs.
Wesley hopes to bring together a civil rights-oriented vision with the professional practice of community development, and sees his American Connection Corps fellowship as an opportunity to work with groups aligned with his own views on such a critical issue. He approaches his work by “tak[ing] the opportunity to listen, asking the community what it needs rather than transposing our own ideas of what success looks like.”