For Good: Nonprofit seeks to provide free internet access across Wimauma

With life being increasingly lived online, the digital divide between people who can access the internet and those who can’t is getting wider every day.

Liz Gutierrez, Founder and CEO of the nonprofit Enterprising Latinas, is hoping to bridge that gap. Together with her team and thanks to funding from Allegany Franciscan Ministries, they’ve recently launched a network of connected WiFi hotspots to create a “canopy” of internet service over a four-block radius in Wimauma. By providing internet access to those who haven’t had it, Gutierrez hopes to open doors and create new opportunities for success.

“Can you imagine not being able to have access to the internet?” Gutierrez asks. “If you want a job, or to pay bills, or access your child’s grades, you have to do it online.”

Gutierrez knew there was a need for some sort of WiFi network when she continued to hear residents say that the only place they could get online was at the McDonald’s that separates Wimauma from Sun City. So early last year, she started doing some research on how her organization could bring internet access directly to the people who need it most. She secured funding from Allegany Franciscan Ministries who gave her their blessing to take on the project and eventually found a service provider who understood her vision.

Now, with the support of eight local businesses who have allowed the hotspot antennas to be installed on their buildings, phase one of the network is up and running. It’s currently serving about 100 households with the goal of coverage for 1,000 homes when all phases are complete. Gutierrez and her team are now working to spread the word about the network around the community.

“We’re very excited,” she says. “We’ve got young people out talking to local businesses, making phone calls -- you name it, we’re doing it.”

Gutierrez is hopeful that once the network is fully up and running that it can lead to job opportunities for people in Wimauma who are interested in technology. But the tech project isn’t the only thing she and her team at Enterprising Latinas are working on.

Last year, the nonprofit was approved to start a transportation system of vehicles that will circulate the neighborhoods, pick up residents and drop them off at HART stations where they can then commute to their jobs -- potentially, jobs they were trained to do at the organization’s hub, the Women’s Opportunity Center.

“We had our first anniversary in January and we’re already outgrowing the space,” says Gutierrez, adding they are looking to expand so they can offer more training programs and meeting space.

With all the growth and the new projects, Gutierrez and Enterprising Latinas remain focused on their mission to help women reach their fullest potential both personally and professionally.

“There are opportunities everywhere,” she says. “We’re giving women a beacon of light so they can see them.”
For more information on Enterprising Latinas, visit their website by clicking here.
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