“Palm Beach State College is proud to host this broadband initiative in partnership with the local community of Belle Glade and surrounding municipalities to ensure that PBSC students and all residents benefit from the digital resources that are vital to their daily lives,” said PBSC President Ava L. Parker, J.D.
The award, from the Multipurpose Facility Program, is part of DeSantis’ $223 million commitment to improve broadband internet access to rural and economically disadvantaged communities across Florida. “By connecting Floridians with centrally located community hubs, residents have increased access to find their next professional opportunity, upskill for future jobs and access telemedicine resources,” Florida Commerce Secretary J. Alex Kelly said in a statement.
“This grant will enable the Belle Glade campus to improve digital inclusion and provide our local community with access to much needed services,” said Dr. LaTanya McNeal, executive dean of PBSC’s Belle Glade campus.
PBSC’s Belle Glade campus aims to close the digital divide within the surrounding rural communities it serves in Belle Glade, Pahokee, and South Bay. Poverty and unemployment rates in these areas are 22% and 13% higher respectively, than the rest of the state. The grant will be used to renovate existing space on PBSC’s Belle Glade campus to offer local residents access to services including workforce training, career advice and telehealth.
To do this, PBSC is partnering with CareerSource Palm Beach County to create a dedicated CareerSource center on the Belle Glade campus. The center will provide the community with access to free or low-cost training services, informational sessions, career advice and placement opportunities. “Our mission at CareerSource is to connect business with talent and that is especially important in areas like the Glades which has traditionally been plagued with higher unemployment than the rest of the county,” said Charles Duval, CareerSource Palm Beach County’s associate vice-president of business services.
Additionally, PBSC intends to use the funding to help community residents upskill into higher wage jobs. Currently, the Glades region lacks a dedicated testing site for industry certifications, forcing residents hoping to gain credentials in skilled trades or licensed professions such as real estate and nursing to travel at least 50 miles to the nearest accredited site. PBSC will expand its existing Pearson Testing Center at the Belle Glade campus, offering certification exams in professions including teaching, emergency medical technicians, among others.
“PBSC is laser-focused on workforce programs and increasing these opportunities for our residents, particularly in Belle Glade,” said Dr. Peter Barbatis, PBSC vice-president of student services and enrollment management. “By expanding our labs and creating new spaces, we will continue to assist the youth trying to enter the workforce and midlife learners who are changing careers.”
Another key component of the grant, for PBSC, is to use the funding to improve access to medical services within the community. Recognizing that access to medical services is more difficult in rural areas, PBSC will create two private spaces for telehealth services within the existing library. These spaces will offer locals convenient, free access to medical advice in a quiet space.
The importance of PBSC’s plans to provide new digital services to the community is underscored by the numerous endorsements and letters of support the college received in support of its grant application. Industry and government leaders including the Mayors of Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay as well educational institutions and local employers all supported the project.