The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the critical roles of technology and digital access in our everyday lives. Thanks to technology, people have been able to work, go to school, stay connected with loved ones, and get important information and access social services throughout the pandemic.
It could be said, especially for vulnerable and isolated communities in Toronto, technology has been a literal lifeline during COVID-19. Early on in the pandemic, Cisco Canada recognized the urgent need for vulnerable people to become digitally connected and helped clients in WoodGreen’s First Step to Home program to access the internet.
One year later, we’re looking back on the impact of Cisco Canada’s generous support.
THE PANDEMIC FURTHER IMPACTED TORONTO’S MOST DISADVANTAGED
When the pandemic began, the desire of Cisco Canada and its team to support those in need was immediate. In response, the company generously donated a portion of its global COVID response funds to WoodGreen.
“The pandemic turned our worlds upside down – and we came face to face with the challenges and impact on those who aren’t connected,” said Willa Black, Vice President of Corporate Affairs with Cisco Canada. “When the pandemic hit, Cisco moved with urgency to reach out to those under-resourced communities and the organizations that serve them to build connectivity and bridges to our most vulnerable.”
“Once COVID started, frail, already-isolated seniors were confined to their homes, food insecurity was rampant, and almost overnight, we had to shift the vast majority of our previously face-to-face programs — including newcomer settlement and social work — to virtual service delivery,” recalls Anne Babcock, President & CEO of WoodGreen. “The individuals and families WoodGreen serve were already among the city’s most disadvantaged so, for them, the impact of COVID was exacerbated. Philanthropic support, like Cisco’s, became even more critical and allowed us to help those who were struggling the most.”
CISCO CANADA GIVES WOODGREEN’S FIRST STEP TO HOME CLIENTS THE GIFT OF TECHNOLOGY
Even more, Cisco Canada brought in additional partners including Rogers Communications and Compugen to reduce isolation and support the mental well-being of some of WoodGreen’s most vulnerable clients – particularly the formerly homeless, senior men in WoodGreen’s First Step to Home (FSTH) program.
Cisco Canada donated networking equipment to ensure internet access throughout the FSTH building and pulled in their partner, Compugen, to source laptops. Through Compugen’s Green4Good technology re-use program, Compugen generously provided each of the men in the program with their own refurbished laptops, with no expectation of the laptops being returned. This corporate collaboration ensured that the men – who are recovering from many hard years on the streets – had both the connectivity and the devices required to access critically needed virtual services and could physically distance themselves in safety within their small bachelor apartments, while still staying connected to the world.
“We are truly pleased that the Green4Good program was able to partner with Cisco to help better the lives of those that are less fortunate than us. We wish all participants great success in the years ahead,” said Steve Glover, President of Compugen Finance Inc.
THE LASTING IMPACT OF CISCO CANADA’S SUPPORT ON WOODGREEN’S CLIENTS
For some of WoodGreen’s FSTH clients, Cisco’s generous gift was and continues to be life-changing. Here’s what a few of them have to say:
“This laptop is the best thing that could have happened to me. While I do not understand the computer much, I am learning….Man, you have no idea, how much yous change my life.”
“I love my laptop because I can learn how to search for jobs and I just learned the “Zoom”, I also can watch Netflix and not be in my small room bored.”
“I love my laptop because I search for available places to rent, free music as I need to learn how to play my keyboard. I am also taking a peer support course and I can sit in my room and Zoom”.
“ I have no TV and cable is too expensive for my budget, so a laptop with internet is a blessing. I am glad I live at WoodGreen.”
THE NEED FOR DIGITAL EQUITY IN OUR COMMUNITIES
The pandemic has shown the importance and the need for everyone to have internet access, not just during emergencies but all the time. And companies can make a huge difference in the lives of vulnerable people by helping them to get online access.
Cisco Canada agrees.
“At Cisco, we consider internet access a basic human right. If we are to be a society that truly embraces fairness and justice for all, we need to ensure that we care for our most vulnerable who sit on the wrong side of the Digital Divide – so they do not get left behind, do not suffer more profound isolation, and can benefit from connections to support their wellbeing,” said Black.