SAN ANTONIO – Folks visiting two West Side laundromats can suds up a load of whites and log on while they wait, thanks to a program aimed at putting a new spin on digital literacy.
The EZ Wash at 7616 Culebra Road as well as the Saint Cloud Road location are now equipped with laptops, tablets and Wi-Fi.
The program is called the Wash and Learn Initiative, or WALI, by Libraries Without Borders, a nonprofit partnering with the San Antonio Library, BiblioTech and Google Fiber. The idea is to meet people where they are.
"Most families spend about two hours in laundromats," said Adam Echelman, of Libraries Without Borders. "People come back every week, so we're seeing the same families. There's a unique opportunity to promote learning."
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One of the goals is to address the digital divide, the gap between people who have access to information technology and those who don't.
According to the latest U.S. Census data, one in four San Antonio households lacks internet service. The reason is often cost.
"I had internet once, but I had to get rid of everything," said resident Lucy Paredes. "So, now, this is good. I know I can come here."
In addition to the tech tools, BiblioTech also hosts various classes in computer basics several hours a week. Staff will also be available at certain times to help one-on-one.
"So, somebody who can sit down with you while you're waiting for your clothes to dry and say, 'Alright, let's finally talk about making that email address,'" Echelman said.
Paredes was excited that she'd already learned a new skill.
"So, now I can download some books," she said. "They taught me how to do that, so I'll be doing that."
She's also pleased that her grandchildren will able to learn more about computer skills and have access to educational programs.
The Wash and Learn Initiative was launched three years ago in other states. San Antonio is the first city in Texas to implement it. If the initial effort is successful, it could expand to other laundromats and beyond.