According to Broadbandnow Research, more than 42 million Americans lack high-speed internet. This lack of access leaves many Americans unable to work, attend school, connect with their loved ones, or receive new information about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In response to this digital divide, Stories of Atlantic City (SOAC), a project focused on telling Atlantic City’s untold stories, created The Atlantic City Phone Tree.
SOAC’s new phone tree will act as a community information system based upon the model developed by Free Press, an organization that tracks the public’s access to media and information. The Atlantic City Phone Tree hopes to assist those in need during these unprecedented times.
“Research shows that digital divides are typically more prevalent in urban areas than in rural ones,” said Christina Noble, the project manager of Stories of Atlantic City. “The digital divide also persists higher in communities and households of color across the board. Atlantic City is an intersection of the two: an urban community with a high percentage of Black, Indigenous, People of Color.”
The goal of The Atlantic City Phone Tree is to build connections between neighbors, share stories of resilience, and provide information to those who lack internet access or are unable to engage with information online. The phone tree can even help callers navigate social systems that are necessary to acquire:
- Food stamps.
- Access to shelters.
- Organizations that focus on tenants’ rights or unemployment agencies
- Free health clinic
- Domestic violence hotlines
- Mental health services
- Translation services
- Income assistance or health insurance
This two-way information gathering tool came about when project partners from the Free Press discussed their model’s success with the SOAC team, who immediately responded by adapting the system to meet the needs of Atlantic City.
“Upon receiving a Rapid Relief Grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, we decided to partner with local organizations that would hire callers to reach within their networks and make these calls,” Noble said.
Stories of Atlantic City partners with Stockton University, and local organizations such as the Atlantic City Arts Foundation, Mud Girl Studios, and the Hispanic Association of Atlantic County to make the Phone Tree possible.
AC Phone Tree volunteer, Nastassia Davis, says she starts her day early by making calls.
“Before I get off the phone, I ask each person if there is someone they know that I could call,” Davis said. “I feel like my presence matters and is meaningful. Being helpful to others is a great way to live.”
Noble explained how new online formats uncovered groups of citizens they could not reach as often.
“I noticed that, when interacting with our senior community, they either were not knowledgeable in working with modern technology or flat out did not have an interest in doing so,” said Noble. “These realizations confirmed not only the digital divide but also the fact that many people were not receiving the necessary information and news needed to survive.”
As for the phone tree’s future, Noble is hopeful. “As we were finalizing our caller questions about COVID-19, we were facing the next community challenge: responding to the senseless deaths linked to police brutality and racism,” Noble said. “We added a couple of new questions to our survey in an attempt to make our information gathering more comprehensive and relevant to the current events taking place.”
Ultimately, SOAC has faith that the phone tree template will evolve and can be an ongoing tool within the community to gather and disseminate information to those in need.
If you are interested in volunteering, you can find more information on storiesofatlanticcity.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.