The Friends of THIRTEEN: Preparing New York City for DTV

June 12th, 2009

by Daniel T. Allen
Community Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Thirteen

The Friends of THIRTEEN is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who act as liaisons between THIRTEEN and the community to: INCREASE engagement with the station’s quality programming; PROMOTE use of its innovative educational resources; and EXPAND support for public media as one of our nation’s great cultural resources. For more information about Friends please contact Executive Director Dorothy Pacella at 212.560.2800 or Pacella@thirteen.org.

It’s finally here. After literally years of preparation America finally faces the digital television transition. From the $350,000 advertisement for placed by the FCC on a NASCAR (that crashed twice) to the four month push-back of the date, it’s been a long strange trip.

Prof. Joan Fonseca of the Medgar Evers School of Business helps a local resident learn about the DTV switch.

In order to help the city prepare for “the big switch,” Friends of Thirteen have been working hard since last fall to connect seniors to information about DTV, train volunteers, and bring together community leaders across the five boroughs.

In September last year, Friends attended “Harlem Connects,” a conference to help Harlem’s seniors get connected. The conference hosted by the Harlem Consumer Education Council made it apparent that far too many people lacked crucial information about the conversion.

In October, we convened a “DTV community coalition” here at the station for community-based organizations, city officials, activists and educators to brainstorm strategies to raise community awareness about the transition.

We’ve provided pamphlets and DVDs of the PBS program “Getting Ready for DTV” to community-based organizations and religious institutions in Russian, Polish, Chinese, Spanish and English.

Friends partnered with Saul Shapiro, President of the Metropolitan Television Alliance, to train 35 students at Medgar Evers College in Crown Heights, Brooklyn to become DTVolunteers.

The DTVolunteers program was designed as a “train the trainers” model. Once the students completed a two-hour training in late April, they paid it forward by taking their skills to the streets.

Donning their THIRTEEN t-shirts (on of the perks of becoming a DTVolunteer) the students visited local churches and senior centers, over 25 local businesses and apartment buildings to talk with Brooklynites about DTV and what they could expect on June 12th. They also placed flyers on cars in the area.

Medgar Evers students

Medgar Evers students and volunteers work the DTV info tables

Working with Prof. Joan Fonseca of the Medgar Evers School of Business, students set up tables just outside campus. Their goal was twofold; disseminate information about DTV and get people signed up for the $40 coupon towards the purchase of a digital converter box.

“The students felt empowered like they were really helping the community,” said Prof. Fonseca. “The work was not glamorous but they really enjoyed it.”

In a few cases, the students even went into private homes to help residents hook up their digital converter boxes.

Community members responded positively to the outreach efforts in the past several weeks and several residents of the area thanked the students for the help.

As the transition takes place, I know that the hard work of volunteers like the students from Medgar will pay off. Although there will be many who we were unable to reach in this vast city, I’m sure that the impact of our outreach will be felt.

Personally, I’m hoping today will be pass in and out of memory like the much-inflated Y2K scare, but just in case, 12 Medgar students will be on standby waiting to serve the central Brooklyn community over the weekend.

If you need assistance in Brooklyn, please contact Prof. Fonseca at 718.704.4638 or joanpfonseca@aol.com.