“Having access is a must-have in assuring success in navigating the world,” says Victor Ruiz, executive director of Esperanza Inc. For 40 years, Esperanza has worked as the only Hispanic-serving community nonprofit organization primarily focused on the advancement of academic and economic development in Ohio. In recent years, one of their main focuses has been expanding digital equity resources.
“On one end, it is a heavy load,” says Ruiz. “Since we are focused on Cleveland, there are a lot of people who are not being reached. The work needs to be expanded.”
For many, the lack of digital accessibility in Cleveland has been a major cause for concern. Cleveland remains among the poorest cities in America and leading #1 in the digital divide. The limited accessibility of internet and digital inclusivity has become a major focus for Esperanza Inc. More specifically, they have made progress in Ohio’s largest Hispanic neighborhood, Clark-Fulton, by helping to provide residents with low-cost internet and more.
“We have our digital learning center in partnership with AT&T and Cuyahoga Community College,” Ruiz says. The center provides access to quality internet, Wi-Fi, technology, and educational tools. Esperanza Inc. has also placed computer labs within the Clark-Metro area with teachers who can help folks navigate their digital experiences. The Cleveland Foundation is a longtime supporter of Esperanza’s work, with recent grants helping expand its digital inclusivity programming through the Digital Navigators initiative. With this initiative, community members can take classes on internet safety, complete Spanish certifications, search for jobs, and engage in building their digital literacy skills.
Inaccessibility has always been relevant in the stories of many students, families, and community members, but the pandemic emphasized the stark difference in the availability of digital connectivity on a wider scale. While schools and workplaces went on Zoom, it became clearer that there were Clevelanders who were left without the resources needed to successfully participate in their daily lives. “Our efforts really increased during the pandemic,” says Ruiz.
“We really want to focus our efforts on educating people about the support available and helping them know how to use the world around us to be successful and get what they need. We are a part of the community; we are visible and constantly where our community can see us.”
Esperanza Inc. has six core direct support programs: youth leadership, adult learner, post-secondary assistance, academic, mentoring, and a STEAM Summer Camp that are all available for all Hispanic community members in the Greater Cleveland Area.
Esperanza Inc. has awarded over $1.7 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 students since its establishment in 1983, with a 98% graduation rate of the students who have engaged in the Youth Leadership Program. Esperanza Inc. has served over 1,200 families in the adult learners program and currently provides mentorship for nearly 250 individuals the year.
Learn about their direct support services and more here: Esperanza Inc. Cleveland | Services for Hispanic Students & Families