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Technology takeover: Senior housing seizes a brand new internet world

Where COVID-19 forced them into isolation, a senior housing complex now has the tools to connect digitally

CLEVELAND — Scranton Castle sits in Cleveland’s Clark Fulton neighborhood. The apartment building is a tight-knit community of senior citizens, the majority of whom are Hispanic.

"We are all helping each other, and I make sure everybody is wearing their mask, especially in tight spots, like the elevator and hallways," said Angel Torres, who not only lives at Scranton Castle, but works there too.

More coronavirus stories can be found here

Keeping COVID-19 from sweeping through the property is priority No. 1, but the trade-off has been isolation from the outside world.

"The inability to connect with their friends and family has impeded them from truly feeling themselves," Marilee Santiago, who is the Director of Education and Training for the MetroHealth Institute of H.O.P.E., said.

Every Tuesday, tables and plexiglass shields go up in the Scranton Castle lobby. The goal is twofold: First, finding out residents' barriers to health and wellness. That can include, but is not limited to, food insecurity, language, and transportation roadblocks.

"So that we can come up with intervention and programming models to truly serve the community as it should be," Santiago said.

The second goal is to connect residents to the outside world by providing high speed internet for less than $10 a month. This is the role of Cleveland nonprofit DigitalC.

"We have residents that are Facetiming or Zooming with their family members that live out of town, so it’s opening doors," Susan Porter, Director of Strategic Projects for DigitalC, told 3News.

Not only have they learned how to connect with loved ones via the internet, but seniors have also enjoyed searching recipes, staying up on current events, and watching videos. Another added benefit of this training and connectivity is heling those parents and grandparents who have young children with them during the day who are learning remotely this school year. 

"I’ve seen a lot kids over here walking by with their little tablets or phones, and it helps out with wi-fi," Torres whose own son distance learns at Scranton Castle, said. "They are able to search whatever they want. It’s helpful, definitely."

In May, Dollar Bank partnered with MetroHealth, pledging $600,000 to provide low-cost internet access to low and moderate-income homes in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. The partnership is supporting MetroHealth’s commitment to bring digital resources to that neighborhood.

Scranton Castle, which is part of the Cuyahoga Housing Metropolitan Authority (CMHA), benefited from the collaboration this summer. Within the first year, the goal is to connect 300 individuals and households with internet access within the first year.

As part of this partnership, DigitalC, a non-profit focused on making Greater Cleveland’s digital future more equitable, will provide reliable and low-cost broadband internet access to the unserved and underserved neighborhoods closest to MetroHealth’s main campus through its EmpowerCle+ initiative.