In 2020, Comcast launched Lift Zones, an extension of the company’s Project UP $1B digital equity initiative, which was designed to help community centers navigate online learning with Internet access and digital resources. Since its inception, Lift Zones have become safe spaces where communities can learn digital skills and pursue academic, professional, and personal advancement. As of October 2022, Comcast has teamed up with nonprofit partners and city leaders to launch more than 1,250 WiFi-connected Lift Zones nationwide. In Michigan, one such community partner is New Level Sports Ministries.
Since its founding in 2001, New Level Sports Ministries in Battle Creek, Michigan has operated with the mission of engaging young communities in the world of athletics. Over the years, it has developed into a space for athletic and academic enrichment through after-school and summer programs. New Level Sports Ministries became home to a Comcast Lift Zone after a visit from former Battle Creek resident, Ben Miller, Comcast Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs. Ben saw this as a step forward for the trusted community organization in safeguarding the future of Michigan youth and closing the digital divide.
“Right after the pandemic, a lot of kids were coming down to our facilities to do their virtual school,” said Marcus Austin, Program Director of New Level Sports Ministries. “We didn’t have enough internet to service every kid who wanted to be down at New Level. When Ben brought the idea of a Lift Zone down here, it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.”
“Lift Zones provide Internet access but do so much more,” said Comcast’s Miller. “Communities are gaining access to resources they would not have had as readily otherwise, including digital skills training. This was my hometown and I’m excited to have helped to bring a Lift Zone to New Level Sports and see this organization create futures by bridging the digital divide.”
Since its launch, the Lift Zone has become a hub of activity for the 300 combined students who are a part of New Level’s after-school and summer programs. “The Lift Zone allows us to give the kids access to high-speed internet and to be able to do the different projects that we ask them to do,” said Austin. “These students are being creative, exploring, and researching in a way that we previously didn’t have the capabilities to allow them to do.”
With the help of reliable Lift Zone internet, Austin is more confident than ever in giving students an enriching, educational experience while also holding their attention after a busy day of school.
“A lot of times, they don’t want to keep using a pencil and paper after they leave school,” said Austin. “We want to offer different, fun and challenging activities that bring them closer to being fluent in a digital world.”
Austin also mentions that the Lift Zone has encouraged students to seek out new ways to engage with their academics. “The technology allows them to explore their creative side,” Austin said. “For example, instead of a typed-up book report, they can make a video using this technology.”
Along with student benefits, the Lift Zone has improved the experience for New Level staff. Prior to the Lift Zones, Austin recalls instructors struggling to manage as few as 10 to 15 iPads, out of 30 available, at a time. Now, all 30 are able to connect securely and reliably, thanks to the Xfinity 10G Network. “It used to be a very frustrating proposition for teachers to work with iPads – it was always a hit or miss with getting every kid online,” said Austin. “With the Lift Zone, there’s no more guessing. We have assurance that the internet is going to work and have consistent speed. It’s been really great for our organization.”
As New Level Sports Ministries continues to flourish, Austin is confident that the Lift Zone will remain an integral part of the student and staff experience. After all, he said, “using this technology is now just a part of their day.”
Learn more about New Level Sports Ministries at https://newlevelsports.org/. For more information about Comcast’s commitment to closing the digital divide, including finding your nearest Lift Zone, please visit: https://corporate.comcast.com/impact/digital-equity/lift-zones