By Stacy M. Brown (NNPA Newswire Contributor)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee has endorsed companies like Honda, Nike, McDonald’s, and Avon.
For the six-time Olympic medal winner, there’s a sense of extra excitement for her new assignment as national spokesperson for Internet Essentials from Comcast.
Often hailed as one of the greatest athletes ever, Joyner-Kersee said that she’s proud to be involved in a program that has connected 750,000 low-income households to the power of the Internet in their homes.
In all, it’s estimated that three million individuals now benefit from Comcast Internet Essentials, including children, who now can research and do homework on a computer for the first time and adults who can seek employment or search for social services and other needs online.
“If you’re not able to access the Internet from the standpoint of young people doing homework or a parent or someone trying to go and fill out a job application,” said Joyner-Kersee. “If you don’t give them the tools, then we are talking about a whole generation, who can be lost or who might think they have no value. But they do have value.”
Joyner-Kersee continued: “For the corporate leadership at Comcast to ask me to do this is truly a win-win. We recognize in our communities the digital divide and if we don’t bridge that gap it will continue to hurt a generation of people and we don’t want that to happen.”
Through the Internet Essentials program, families that qualify pay $9.95 per month for Internet service, including Wi-Fi. Comcast also offers a subsidized computer or laptop for $150.
Additionally, Comcast is also providing $2 million in grants during the current back-to- school season to community-based organizations that provide vital digital literacy training and Internet access.
David L. Cohen, the senior executive vice president of Comcast Corporation, said that Joyner-Kersee has been a great addition to the Internet Essentials team.
“Jackie speaks with a lot of passion about the issues and it’s obvious,” Cohen said. “We, as a company, have a lot of passion about this, as well. None of us had any idea if this was going to work or how well it would work.”
Cohen continued: “To be honest, I would have never predicted that we would connect three million families, most of them for the first time and now we’ve extended the program to seniors, HUD [recipients] and college students.”
As the national spokesperson for the Comcast Internet Essentials program, Joyner-Kersee has recognized the need to close the digital divide even more.
“My initial thoughts were that Internet Essentials really is a great product to help bridge that gap,” she said.
Born and raised in East St. Louis, Joyner-Kersee has remained committed to ensuring that all children have access to high-quality after-school programs, safe recreational places within their communities, and caring adults to help them achieve their dreams.
She launched the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in Los Angeles and moved it to East St. Louis in 1995.
Inspired by the closing of her neighborhood community center, Joyner-Kersee expanded the foundation by raising more than $12 million to expand programming and built a comprehensive youth and sports facility and campus that opened in 2000.
The retired Olympic champion shared the story of a mother, who had been having disciplinary problems with her young son. The young man aspired to go to college, but the lack of Internet access was a major obstacle in his pursuit of higher education.
Once the family became recipients of Comcast’s generosity, things changed.
“He was able to research colleges and it helped to change his life and also his behavior,” Joyner-Kersee said. “There are a lot of success stories that probably go untold, but the program is making a difference.”
Cohen said that Internet Essentials is also making a difference in the lives of senior citizens, who are now eligible for the program.
That, too, has appealed to Joyner-Kersee.
“Seniors are able to research and stay connected to their grandkids,” she said. “It’s another form of communication and when I say ‘level the playing field,’ this is leveling the playing field for seniors, too and helping them to continue to be engaged.
Joyner-Kersee added: “They recognize what a valuable tool the Internet can be and they’re able to see what their young ones might be doing.”