Free Technology, Wi-Fi, Phones, Even an $11 Tablet
By Dianne Anderson
Oba Totton does whatever it takes to get the kids to dream bigger, and judging by the crowds that he draws, it is working.
About 1,000 youth and families turned out for his plethora of resources earlier this month, with mentorship, tutoring, scholarships, free phones, reduced internet and a tablet for a one-time $11 activation fee.
Legal, health and wellness partners usually draw out the masses, but this time tech offerings through a free government program giveaway was a hit. Hundreds received good technology, mostly for free or extremely low cost and a 10-inch tablet.
Through the new program, free and discounted technology was available for all who qualified. The representative showed everyone how to transfer the SIM card from the tablet to the phone to maximize use for unlimited internet access.
“I watched the faces and the people that came to get the tablet from her, and you can do multiple things with it. She lets you know that once you pay the fee, it’s free,” said Totton, CEO and founder of the nonprofit, DIG LIFE, Dreamz Into Goals.
Eligible participants were able to get the tablet right on the spot along with a free phone, and access to reduced internet, which he said is important to help students with his online tutoring and mentorship programs.
Totton gave out 200 skateboards, 200 pairs of shoes, and 50 haircuts. They had raffle giveaways to their students and families with plenty of free resources in Long Beach District 1, and he is now planning on a similar event in District 2.
As a nonprofit, getting career development programs, information and technology out to the students has been his main focus. He has also hosted two prior backpack giveaways, and haircuts, along with skateboard meetups, and has given away hundreds of pieces of clothes and shoes.
“It’s a way so they can have fun and understand that we have tutoring and mentorships, scholarships. We have laptop giveaways, and other resources,” he said.
During Black History Month, he also charters a busload of kids and family members to go to Allensworth, originally founded by Black settlers in California.
“We spend the whole day just so everyone can get the experience to understand where they come from and who they are,” said Totton, also a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity.
He said he first got involved with community service in 2008, realizing that it takes about 10,000 hours to get proficient in any field of endeavor. He knew a lot of tech coders and wanted to create a curriculum to pipeline the kids into a trade and careers.
“Black and Brown kids are not getting computer savvy early enough or comparable to their white counterparts. That is what started the laptop giveaway, and now let me show you how to use the software,” he said.
From there, his programs spawned scholarships to let the students know that help is available, whether they want to go to college or trade school.
“We’re here to support you and you can still do great things to impact the community and society,” he said. “I definitely want it to be bigger than that. I’m on the move to be the biggest and baddest, I want to make sure that it affects a lot of people. That’s the mission.”
Lynda Douangsavanh, a representative from the Affordable Connectivity Program said Totton’s event was packed and she was able to get a lot of people signed up.
Mostly, she works with nonprofits in Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, at food pantries, with pastors, with senior programs, and said that many students qualify for the program.
During the COVID lockdown when kids were homeschooling, she said the government program started as a way to bridge the income gap and digital divide as many families couldn’t afford the internet or laptops.
But, the problem was that the kids had to return their laptops and hotspots by the end of the school year.
Through the new program, she said the $11 tablets are running on the data plan for up to four years, or consumers can get a discount of up to $30 each month for their monthly home internet bills.
Most low income families automatically qualify, particularly those receiving EBT, Medi-Cal, or Social Security.
Often, she is invited by word of mouth referrals, and the community is usually excited to receive the data plan, tablet, and free phone service through the Lifeline program. If consumers take the data plan on the tablet, she said they get 25 gigs, unlimited text and unlimited talk.
Young college students use their laptops more than tablets, and many prefer their Apple phones. She said the SIM card that comes with the tablet also works on their other devices, and the government helps pay for the SIM card.
“We tell people since the tablet is not a cellular device, if they want to use it as a phone, they can pull the sim card out and put it on any other cellular device and it works as a phone,” she said.
The same goes for laptops. Instead of running on a hotspot, she said they can put their USB adapter that takes the SIM card and use it for their laptop to run on their discounted data plan.
Anyone at 200% of the federal poverty line qualifies for the program, which is based on Adjusted Gross Income.
She said the Lifeline program is also a great benefit, and people can call her directly or check eligibility and approval through getinternet.gov/apply.
“Once approved they can give me a call and give me the application number,” she said. “I’m in Long Beach, I’m in San Bernardino [County]. I’m working with students, helping them out with the tablets. I’m everywhere.”
For more information, see DIG LIFE, https://www.dreamzintogoals.org/
To contact Lynda Douangsavanh, call 951.234.7748