FIGHT to benefit from stimulus funds, more computers

Last week, President Obama unveiled a new public-computing project in Philadelphia that’s set to enhance computer access among disadvantaged communities, and a local HIV/AIDS service organization is among the partner organizations spearheading the effort.

Philadelphia FIGHT will join forces with several city agencies and other nonprofits to implement the $6.4-million initiative.

The project is one of 66 across the country that will benefit from a $795-million investment under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The local initiative will create 91 new jobs and create or upgrade more than 75 computer centers throughout the city. The effort is expected to bring in 829 new computers and allow about 14,000 new users a week to have computer access.

Of the $6.4-million award, FIGHT will receive $1.4 million split equally between two years. Other partner agencies include the city’s Division of Technology and Parks and Recreation and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

With the award, FIGHT will be able to expand its computer lab and staff in its AIDS Library, Institute for Community Justice and Youth Health Empowerment Project.

Local businessman and philanthropist Mel Heifetz donated several computers to FIGHT several years ago, and the agency currently houses seven computers in its AIDS Library and two at Y-HEP.

The grant will enable FIGHT to install new computers and replace several old ones so that it can offer 10 computers at the AIDS Library, six at ICJ and seven at Y-HEP.

FIGHT also will now be able to hire three full-time and three part-time staffers with the award, enabling each of the three sites to have its own part-time staffer to oversee the computer centers.

The agency will also be involved in establishing or growing computer centers at two-dozen local shelters or drug houses where it currently provides HIV counseling and testing.

FIGHT executive director Jane Shull noted that the award is especially meaningful in that it comes 10 years after the death of local HIV/AIDS activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya. Kuromiya was influential in establishing FIGHT’s Critical Path AIDS Project, which has provided free Internet access and other Web services to those with HIV/AIDS and organizations that serve this population.

The city, citing its budget crisis in 2008, discontinued funding for Critical Path’s broadband Internet services, although the initiative still provides free website hosting and e-mail listservs for agencies with an HIV-related mission.

“Kiyoshi believed the Internet should be widely available and that access should be free,” Shull said. “This project, which will enable low-income people all over Philadelphia to gain access to broadband and also to learn the skills they need to take advantage of it, will allow FIGHT to fulfill the mission that Kiyoshi called us to during his life, and that he urged us to continue after his death.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].