On any given school day, Hayde Gallegos’ children can be found logged into their virtual classes, learning science or jumping around the living room for PE. Though the timing of their lessons are sometimes varied, the four kids, ages 8 to 14, use the same internet signal to video chat with their teachers, watch their lessons and complete their assignments.

Typically, this would cause glitches and dropped calls, but thanks to a new city-wide initiative their internet access is running smoother than ever. And it’s free!

Chicago Connected, a first-of-its-kind initiative, is bringing free high-speed internet to 100,000 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students and their families over four years. This is just one way our city is closing the “digital divide” that leaves too many households without access to critical information and opportunities.

Since its inception and launch this spring, Chicago Connected has been powered by partnerships. Corporate, city and philanthropic partners came together to invest more than $47 million in this initiative, including United Way of Metro Chicago, the City of Chicago, Crown Family Philanthropies, Illinois Tool Works and The Chicago Community Trust.

Community-based organizations are critical partners, too. United Way partners have been on the ground enrolling households in the program, providing advocacy when families set up their service and resolving any technical problems they encounter.

Latinos Progresando — our lead partner in the Little Village Neighborhood Network — is one of these great connectors.

To date, Latinos Progresando has enrolled over 1,000 families in Little Village. Their close partnerships within the community, especially with school principals, have aided their effort. “We’ve worked with schools in the area to reach out to families to make them aware of this amazing opportunity,” said Andrew Sparks, Community Programs Director with Latinos Progresando. “We know schools are such strong anchors for families.”

Without this free program, families would either go without Internet or rely on the local library, making access unreliable and unpredictable. With online classes, students would miss quality learning time without internet service.

Chicago Connected is helping the Gallegos Family save money that they’re instead spending on groceries for the household.

It’s also drastically improved the family’s connectivity. Mrs. Gallegos said her children aren’t experiencing internet loss when they’re all online at the same time, like they were before.

“Our internet is better than before. In March when they started online school, it wasn’t working well. And when we passed the [bandwidth] limit, I’d have to pay more,” Mrs. Gallegos said.

Her kids now don’t have to worry about missing critical instruction when the internet cuts out. And she can easily connect to her GED classes on the weekend.

“Thank you for this program,” she said. “It’s a relief to save money for another bill. I’m really grateful and appreciate it.”

Your gift to United Way will support strong partnerships that make a difference in the lives of local students and their families. Donate today!