Habitat tech effort grows

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A pioneering effort by Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County to install computers in homes it builds and plug Habitat homeowners into the Internet is about to spawn pilot projects in 10 other U.S. cities — and expects to expand to Habitat homes abroad and to low-income families in the U.S.

Sonja Murray, who has spearheaded the “Digital Bridge” initiative for Forsyth’s Habitat, is resigning as the group’s director of development to oversee the expansion as a consultant to Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, Ga.

Habitat International wants to boot up Habitat homeowners in other countries as well, she says, while other likely partners want low-income families not living in Habitat homes to have access to technology.

“The funders I’m working with do not see this initiative as Habitat families only,” Murray says. “They would like to take what we’ve learned from Forsyth and Habitats across the U.S. and eventually roll out affordable technology to all families of low income in the United States.”

Murray, who initially will focus on generating funds and support, expects partners to include groups that have backed Forsyth’s initiative, including AOL Time Warner, Dell Computer and HATCH, a Winston-Salem firm that builds computer centers for early-childhood programs and instigated the local project.

Other likely partners, she says, include Cisco Systems, which has worked with Habitat International to put technology in Africa, and One Economy Corp., a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that helps equip public-housing residents with technology and Web resources.

By the end of 2002, Forsyth’s Habitat will have built 161 homes and wired 111 of them.

Ted Swisher, vice president of U.S. affiliates for Habitat International, says plugging into technology is a critical challenge for Habitat homeowners.

“We want a decent house in a decent community,” he says. “And today the digital community is getting increasingly important. You really can’t be fully a part of the American community unless you are capable of connecting to that digital community.”

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