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Bridging the Digital Divide in a Completely Digital World

This Labor Day, we are highlighting the community organization who made it possible for Cara Connects to expand our reach to the northwest side of Chicago, our co-location partner, Northwest Center. Together, we help job seekers in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood get back to work and transform their lives.

How do you learn digital literacy skills…digitally? That’s the question the team at Northwest Side Housing Center and Cara Connects grappled with at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to continue teaching Adelante, our brand new digital and financial literacy course.

Back in October 2019, thanks to a grant from UnidosUS and Verizon Wireless, Northwest Side Housing Center and Cara Connects started a Latinos @ Work program they named Adelante, the Spanish word for “Forward”. The program focuses on teaching job seekers in the Belmont Cragin community how to competitively enter the workforce with digital skills that lead to gainful employment.

Our course was created to be three days a week for eight weeks, where students came to Northwest Center to learn everything from creating an email account to learning Microsoft Office and Google suites.

But when the pandemic started in March 2020, we had to get creative. Our classes couldn’t be led by traditional in-person instruction, but how could we continue our training when — to even log into class from their laptops at home — Adelante students needed to use the very same digital skills we were going to teach them? 

Our students faced hurdles brought on by the Stay at Home Order, such as not having internet access at home in order to take the course. But despite these setbacks, our Adelante students stayed determined to enhance their digital skills because their careers in a virtual world relied on them now more than ever.

Inspired by their resilience, our combined team from Northwest Center and Cara Connects adapted how we taught our curriculum, converting it to a virtual format while ensuring everyone received or had access to a laptop. We strategized how to help our students get internet access or find places with free Wi-Fi.

As we tested out iterations of our virtual curriculum, our students were not only able to learn in this new virtual way but also build friendships and community through their screens. 

To date, 39 students have graduated from the Adelante program and 23 are already gainfully employed. And because of the program’s success, UnidosUS has granted another $100,000 to continue the program through 2023.

“I see our students completely transform,” says Staffing Site Manager Mariel Corona, who leads our Adelante program. “Adelante is designed to build people up from day one. At the end of our eight-week class our students not only have the digital skills but the confidence and self-esteem to succeed.”

Learn more stories of how Northwest Center and Cara Connects are helping job seekers in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood get back to work.