Nonprofit provides skills via technology
Low-cost internet for residents in poverty
LYNCHBURG, VA. | It was a quick lesson on the perils of revealing too much online.
There are many Facebook accounts with another person’s picture on it, and people think they have met “Mr. and Mrs. Right,” Tammy Pollard said to her class at Park View Community Mission in September.
“Turns out it’s ‘Mr. Wrong,’ or ‘Mr. I-want-yourmoney,’ or ‘Ms. I-need-somebody-to-take-care-ofme,”’ Ms. Pollard said.
The computer class, which taught internet and office skills, was offered through Lighthouse Communications. The Lynchburg nonprofit provides low-cost, high-speed internet to people living below the federal poverty level, nonprofits and the community at large.
For students who live below the federal poverty guidelines, the class is free. An individual who makes less than $11,880 annually meets the federal poverty guideline. For others, the cost of the class is based on a sliding scale.
The mission of Lighthouse Communications can be summed up in the biblical verse Hosea 4:6, which states: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
Lighthouse attempts to reduce people’s suffering through offering knowledge, said its founder, Mark Lindy.
“The internet is the way that knowledge is conveyed in the 21st century,” he said.
Around 2001, Mr. Lindy was working at Genworth Financial Inc. as a data center engineer when he said he received a calling from God to quit his job and start a company with the purpose of communicating God’s message of love and hope.
About a year later, he quit his position at the insurance firm to dedicate himself to his start-up, Digital One, a company with services that include live internet streaming for churches, video production and screen and projector graphics. Through the internet, homebound worshippers can watch church services live and contribute through virtual tithing.
The nonprofit Lighthouse Communications came by way of a second calling, Mr. Lindy said.
As a volunteer at Park View Community Mission, he began to notice the same people coming to the mission each week and wondered why some appeared to not be moving forward in life.
“That’s when the voice said, ‘strap an antenna to the steeple and see what happens,”’ he said.
Lighthouse Communications was incorporated around 2014 and provides low-cost internet service to households living below the federal poverty level guidelines.
The nonprofit currently has about 25 clients, which also include nonprofit organizations and businesses. Nonprofits receive a reduced rate, and businesses are billed competitive market rates. All fees, including those from nonprofits and businesses, support Lighthouse.
An antenna on Park View’s bell tower broadcasts microwave signals, and Lighthouse is limited to providing internet service to within a two-mile radius around Park View Community Mission.
Lighthouse began offering computer classes about a year ago. Mr. Lindy had been providing one-on-one computer assistance as a Park View volunteer, helping people with job searches or sending email.
The demand for internet skills such as job searching and basic office skills was so great, he said.
“We had no choice [but] to begin the class,” Mr. Lindy said.
In a city where about a quarter of its population lives in poverty, for some Lynchburg residents, internet accessibility is not so much a problem of availability but cost.
That reality was evident in Lighthouse’s computer class. Student Maggie Elliot had internet service years ago but no longer has it because of the cost. Student Gerard Hutcherson, too, once had internet but had to cut it off because of the expense.
Instructor Tammy Pollard fist bumps with a student at a computer class at Park View Community Mission in Lynchburg, Virginia. The class provides low-cost internet service for those below federal poverty guidelines.