How a big corporation like Comcast can connect to the community

Denver Housing Authority and Comcast team up to provide high-speed internet connections and community relationship connections to low-income tenants… turning public housing units into places people can call truly home.

It was 32 degrees and snowing at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, when over seventy volunteers gathered inside Denver Housing Authority’s Quigg Newton Community Center, to participate in Comcast’s 17th Annual Comcast Cares Day.

More than 100,000 volunteers worldwide participated in the event, completing all sorts of service-based projects in communities where Comcast does business. The Quigg Newton group’s main prerogative was landscaping — weeding and mulching an on-site community garden and the adjacent playground, and mulching one hundred trees scattered throughout DHA’s 7-city-block Quigg Newton Homes public housing development.

In addition to yard work, volunteers were tasked with making the community garden handicap-accessible, installing two benches, and adding four dog waste stations. And here’s the kicker: “We only had four hours to complete all of those projects,” says Tony Frank, DHA’s fund development manager.

More than 100,000 volunteers worldwide participated in Comcast Cares Day this year. The local version focused on Denver Housing Authority's Quigg Newton Homes. All photos by Jamie Siebrase.

On Saturday, fifty Comcast employees and their families showed up to volunteer alongside twenty DHA staff and residents. Spoiler alert: Despite the spring freeze, Comcast and DHA volunteers accomplished everything they set out to do outdoors — minus some curbside painting, which couldn’t be completed in the slush.
Now, the Quigg Newton playground is primed for families, and all thirty community garden plots are ready for resident use. The result is a beautified public gathering space — one Frank anticipates will connect Quigg Newton community members to one another.

That’s a fitting notion, seeing as it was community connection that brought DHA and Comcast together.

Building a Connection   

In 2011, Comcast began providing low-cost internet service to eligible individuals through its Internet Essentials program, a broadband accessibility package that launched in school lunchrooms.

Initially, Internet Essentials was only offered to families with children who qualified for the National School Lunch program. But after chatting with DHA in 2015, Comcast decided to expand Internet Essentials in order to include anyone living in low-income public housing, piloting the “housing component” of Internet Essentials in the spring of 2016.

Volunteers did yard work, made the community garden handicap-accessible, installed two benches and added four dog waste stations in about four hours.

Since then, more than 1,000 DHA residents have connected to high-speed Internet through DHA’s partnership with Comcast. Qualified participants pay $9.95 a month (plus tax) for high-speed internet. “There’s no credit check, no contracts, and the rates will never increase,” adds Mary Spillane, Comcast’s director of community investment.
Comcast also awarded DHA a $100,000 grant to upgrade its technology equipment, both in housing units and at several opportunity centers, where DHA provides free technology training for its tenants.  
The Quigg Newton Connection

From mid-rises and row homes to single family dwellings, DHA owns and manages 5,500 housing units throughout Denver. The majority of its portfolio is public housing, and because DHA administers 6,800 housing choice vouchers, the organization serves almost 12,000 households with affordable and subsidized housing annually.

Located in the Sunnyside neighborhood in northwest Denver, Quigg Newton Homes is one of DHA’s “oldest and largest family developments,” say Frank.  

The 380-unit property consists of two-story townhomes, many of which were outfitted with rooftop solar panels in 2012, when DHA underwent an “efficiency retrofit” in order to reduce its carbon footprint.

In addition to being one of DHA’s green sites, Quigg Newton Homes is also one of the organization’s “Jobs Plus Initiative” sites — meaning services are offered to low-income residents to promote economic self-sufficiency.

Comcast is involved with DHA year-round through its Internet Essentials program, a broadband accessibility package that costs resident just $9.95 a month.

At the Quigg Newton Community Center, for example, there’s a technology room, where residents can take free digital literacy classes on topics ranging from Gmail and Google Drive to Skype, Internet Search Engines, and Microsoft Word and Excel.

Right now, Quigg Newtown Community Center is one of DHA’s “five and a half technology hubs,” Frank says.

DHA’s main hubs are located inside Mulroy Opportunity Center, North Lincoln Opportunity Center, Sun Valley Opportunity Center, Westwood Opportunity Center, and Connections@Mariposa.

The Quigg Newton Community Center is the “half-of-a-hub” Frank referenced. It has new computers and a Comcast connection, but the technology room won’t be a full hub until it gets an interactive whiteboard.

“The board couldn’t be delivered on Saturday,” Frank explains — so several Comcast technicians are extending Comcast Cares Day, returning to the Quigg Newton Community Center this week to install the interactive whiteboard Comcast donated to DHA.  

Thanks to the work of volunteers, all thirty community garden plots are ready for resident use at the Quigg Newton Homes.

More Than One Connection

This year was DHA’s second year participating in Comcast Cares Day, which has grown exponentially since its inception in 2001.

“The first year, there were about 6,000 volunteers nationwide. Now there are over 100,000 annually,” says Spillane. Since 2001, more than 930,000 Comcast Cares Day volunteers have donated their time and skills for 9,300 projects across the United States and around the world.

In Colorado alone, there were fifty-plus service projects scheduled in over a dozen cities on Comcast Cares Day.   

“We don’t make this kind of impact alone,” Spillane says, pointing to a few Comcast’s many partners: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, City Year, the National Urban League, UnidosUS, and Easterseals.

“A lot of the organizations we serve on Comcast Cares Day are ones we work with throughout the year,” Spillane notes. “DHA is a great example of that, and we also have great partners in local school districts, including Denver Public Schools.

“Many Comcast employees volunteer with their families every year,” says James Padgett, technical operations manager at Comcast.

There were more than fifty service projects scheduled in over a dozen Colorado cities on Comcast Cares Day.

He, his wife, and their four children have been participating since 2002, and didn’t mind getting a little snow in their hair this year, while working in the garden at the Quigg Newton Community Center.  

“Everybody gets busy in their lives,” Padgett says. “This is our opportunity to give back to our community — not just Comcast as a whole, but each one of us individually.”

Beyond providing volunteers on Comcast Cares Day, Comcast finances the majority of its Comcast Cares Day projects.

“We provide financial support for materials, and we buy breakfast and lunch for all of the volunteers, because we don’t want anything to be a burden on our volunteers,” explains Spillane, adding, “Our civic DNA is connecting people, and Comcast Cares Day is one of the greatest manifestations of how we do that.”

This story is part of a series on the Denver Housing Authority and is underwritten by Comcast.


Read more articles by Jamie Siebrase.

Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer who who writes about art, culture, and parenting for Westword and Colorado Parent.
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