Rutherford County Library System Receives Grant to Help Bridge Digital Divide for Older Tennesseans

Sep 12, 2022 at 10:26 pm by WGNS News

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – RUTHERFORD COUNTY LIBRARY SYSTEM (RCLS) is pleased to announce it has received an $87,478.00 grant from the West End Home Foundation (WEHF) to help bridge the digital divide for Tennesseans age 60 and older living in Rutherford County. RCLS was one of 30 nonprofit and governmental agencies that received grants ranging from $10,000 to $400,000.



“We’re very grateful for this grant from the West End Home Foundation,” said Garrett Crowell, RCLS Library Circulation & Bookmobile Manager. “We feel very well-positioned in terms of outreach and resources to get technology in the hands of more isolated seniors. We have some big plans for the future of our Bookmobile program, too.”

“Agencies and nonprofits seeking grants had to address ways their organizations would reduce social isolation and increase access to essential services for older Tennesseans through digital literacy and inclusion programming,” said Dianne Oliver, executive director, West End Home Foundation. “We look forward to seeing how RCLS will use these funds to address the specific needs of its residents.”

We have a two part approach to our use of the grant monies: Part One - “Programs”

  • It will allow us to put appropriately sized tablets in the hands of senior patrons configured with basic options with the option to expand depending upon the needs and wants of the user.
  • The focus of the apps will be the internet, phone/text and Library-based reading and streaming services.
  • To support our new patrons and their devices, we plan on hosting and teaching regular classes which focus on the tablet, the operating system, and the apps and their optimization.
  • We plan to bring the classes to the senior citizen community as well, meeting them where they are and thus further reducing barriers to access.

This portion helped us complete our funding of a new Bookmobile, replacing the very popular and fatigued bus that had to be decommissioned in 2020. Mobile book access is very important to the RCLS Mission Statement. We continued to serve patrons by using the library’s sedan and transit van while working on fundraising. This new bus, the Connections Port, will be more than just a storytime van:

  • It will also be a robust mobile hotspot.
  • It will have a predictably mapped route to neighborhoods who lack broadband access.
  • It can be a mobile on-demand technology classroom.
  • It will continue to be the time-honored social and media delivery system our community loves.

Research shows that, when older adults are connected to technology, they become less isolated and more engaged in their communities. Older adults without internet access suffered more extreme levels of social isolation during the COVID epidemic. Many were unable to access essential services and products and could not take advantage of telehealth, telecounseling, and other telesupport services.

The digital literacy initiative, administered by the West End Home Foundation, is the last phase of the $40 million settlement handed down from Davidson County Chancery Court, Division III, Case No. 11-1548-III.  Funds from this case were designated by the Court to be used to sustain and improve the quality of life for elderly Tennesseans.

The digital literacy grant program was created in response to the connectivity crisis experienced by our country’s older adults. An estimated 21.8 million older adults are offline at home, with only 58% of Americans age 65 and older with broadband internet service. The negative ramifications of this lack of connectivity became clear during the pandemic as older adults became cut off from their families, friends, and communities.

Funding Background 
In 2014, the Tennessee Attorney General recovered $40.1 million from the dissolution of two nonprofit nursing homes in Murfreesboro. The funds were under the auspices of the Chancery Court of Davidson County, with Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle presiding. The West End Home Foundation was the recipient of $3.9 million funds for the purpose of designing and administering a statewide grant aimed at bridging the digital divide that was apparent for older adults during the pandemic. The grant, “Reducing Social Isolation and Increasing Access to Essential Services Through Digital Literacy and Inclusion for Older Tennesseans,” was launched Jan. 10, 2022.

About Rutherford County Library System   
RCLS provides services and resources via six brick-and-mortar branches and a Bookmobile. We provide tangible resources, such as books, DVDs, games and other materials that can be checked out, alongside digital resources, such as books, audiobooks, music and other resources that can be delivered to a device. We also host and develop programs for a wide variety of interests, and strive to be diverse in order to reflect a county that is fast growing and houses a multiplicity of kinds of people. Read more about our individual branches and programs on our website.

About West End Home Foundation  
The West End Home Foundation is a private, charitable foundation located in Nashville. The Foundation’s mission is to enhance the lives of older adults through grantmaking, advocacy and community collaboration. The Foundation serves Middle Tennessee including Cheatham, Davidson, Robertson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, providing approximately $2 million annually in grants to nonprofit agencies serving older adults.

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