suma friends, for our last newsletter of 2022, we wanted to give you the chance to meet another suma team member, Digital Community Builder Malena Lechon-Galdos.
Q1: tell us about yourself Malena – what’s your story and how did your path bring you to suma?
I feel like my story begins with my mom going back to school as a single mom when I was 9. When she couldn’t find childcare I would have to go to class with her and I loved it- especially once she figured out her degree path (Chicano Latino Studies) and became an active member of her cohort. This exposure guided me to my love of understanding the structure by which we’re governed (for better or for worse) and policy. In my last year of college I had the opportunity to intern for one of the few BIPOC legislators of Oregon during the 2019 long session. This invaluable experience solidified my love for working on policy changes to benefit Oregon’s most vulnerable communities. I had the opportunity to work with my dear friend, Darren Golden, on some projects surrounding criminal justice reform and environmental policy and it was he who shared the suma job posting with me after working with Alan and others on banning facial recognition technology in Portland. This past year has challenged me and been a huge information intake, but I am so happy that I took the opportunity and look forward to the growth that lies ahead of me.
Q2: what kind of things do you focus on as suma’s Digital Community Builder?
I am lucky enough to work across all the programs suma has- enterprise, organizing, and justice. One things that I do across all of our programs: engaging with community members on all things digital/tech justice related. As someone who has worked in customer service most of my adult life (farmers markets and Trader Joe’s), being able to engage and help folks as a part of my job is a joy and my interactions always leave me with a sense of fulfillment.
Q3: what are you working on the most right now?
At the moment, the launch of the suma app has been an all hands on deck project and an exciting first glimpse at what it means to launch an app, be part of the customer service sector and continue building or strengthening my relationships with the community members we serve.
I’m also working on the digital divide -- which is about more than devices, it's about reliable and quick internet access. We know there is an urban rural divide that has often been the focus of the digital divide conversation, however the digital divide exists in our urban areas as well. Consider that of all Oregon households without internet, 41,700 are rural, while 135,600 are considered urban (ECONW). That is a large number of folks who, based on our perception of what urban areas offer, should be served but are not. Without internet access, our communities are left out of economic and learning opportunities, time and money saving telehealth calls, and kids fall behind in school. Fortunately, we have a chance to make a difference for community members because of big changes and funding coming from the federal government as a result of the digital struggles that were amplified during the last two years. I have been engaged in ongoing broadband conversations – helping facilitate local Broadband Roundtables, participating in Rep. Marsh’s workgroup for legislative fixes to SB 1603, and hosting a community-centered Broadband Workgroup to keep up with the fast paced changes and updates happening surrounding broadband. In 2023 we will be involved in ensuring the changes to Oregon’s Broadband Fund that our community and many other stakeholders across the state have pushed for gets passed despite industry pushback. If you’re interested in learning more or being a part of the broadband workgroup email list, please reach out to me email@example.com
Q4: what’s ahead for 2023?
Continuing to ensure frontline community members are front and center for all broadband and digital equity funding opportunities is a top priority for me as suma’s Digital Community Builder. I also spent a great deal of time focusing on our enterprise program in 2022, but now that Abel is on board with us, I’m looking forward to expanding what suma’s organizing program has to offer by adapting our digital capacity curriculum for different communities and making the resource available to all our frontline serving partner organizations. Our plan is to develop an open-source portal that makes it easy for partners to adapt the curriculum to the specific technology circumstances of their community members.