By Jamie Leary
BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– A Lafayette man is determined to break the cycle of poverty in his community with a free internet service. He is hoping others will join the battle.
“Boulder County is very wealthy but as the wealth rises, so does the poverty,” said Kern Shahi.
Shahi, 22, was born and raised in Boulder County. He witnessed the digital divide first-hand.
“A lot of my friends didn’t have internet access growing up so they would come to my house to apply for universities and scholarships.”
According to the 2013 Census, one in four Americans does not have Internet access at home; those with the lowest medium income rates are most affected.
While attending the University of Colorado in Boulder, Shahi was awarded the Puksta Scholarship and was required to develop a project that addresses common social issues. For Shahi, it wasn’t hard to come up with cause to champion; he wanted to see every young person in his community grow up with internet in their home.
“My view on the way to break the cycle of poverty is through education and if we can educate these students and not let them fall behind, they can break that cycle.”
In 2015 Shahi teamed up with Comcast and launched ConnectME. He turned first to his former elementary school Alicia Sanchez International where more than 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
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“A lot of teacher and schools are turning to online homework and online tests starting at the elementary level. If they don’t have these resources at home they’re going to get left behind.”
Shahi connected hundreds in his community through ConnectME and says currently, there are close to 200 people lined up who will likely qualify. When he started the program in 2015, he was able to service everyone who qualified but the need is growing.
“It only takes $120 to sponsor one family per year. Now, I’m seeking funders here in the area or corporate sponsors to sponsor one family. What ConnectME realizes is that if we don’t sponsor a family for more than one year, it doesn’t do any good. We have to make sure that this is sustainable and these students have internet access throughout their schooling so they can compete with their peers.”
Shahi’s partnership with Comcast has also also introduced his community to another low-cost option. For those who qualify, Comcast’s Internet Essentials program only costs $10 per month.
Comcast says across the state of Colorado, Internet Essentials has connected more than 42,000 low-income households benefitting approximately 168,000 Coloradans.
While the cost is low, for many, it’s still a struggle.
“A lot of these families have to decide if they want to eat for one day or do they want to pay a month of service for internet,” said Shahi.
Officials with Comcast couldn’t be happier to work with Shahi and help him close the “digital divide.”
“Comcast is so proud of the work Kern is doing to help more students and their families gain access to the internet at home and connect with each other and our community. As a community, we must ensure all children have access to the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century economy — including internet access and digital literacy skills,” said Leslie Oliver, director of communications for Comcast’s Mountain West division.
The cost to sponsor a family for a year is $120. To donate, visit the GoFundMe page.
“I feel like with this program it can break the cycle and let the kids have the same opportunity with their peers,” said Shahi.
Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn’t imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.