HPOU get onto the ‘digital divide’ on the Eastside

David Vasquez, Rep. Christina Morales, Arturo Mejia, Debbie Lahaie, & Ken Nealy

Over the past few years, the HPOU has made its mark with community involvement by committing time and money to help Houston families, neighborhoods, and schools with special needs.

The Union’s latest helping hand operated in partnership with an ongoing movement on the Eastside to provide laptops to school kids and families that heretofore struggled to get on the internet.

It went without saying that remote learning became almost impossible in one identified section.

“During the pandemic,” HPOU Board Member Art Mejia said, “Students in parts of HISD didn’t have computers and the internet to get their assignments, much less do their homework. A lot of kids were doing homework on Mom and Dad’s cell phone. They would run into hot spots here and there and get cut off.”

Closing the Digital Divide!

State Rep. Christina Morales answered this call through her family’s Morales Memorial Foundation, named for her grandparents, Felix and Angela, owners of Felix H. Morales Funeral Home on Canal.

In 2020 – the infamous year of the pandemic – the foundation raised $36,000 to purchase refurbished laptop computers for victims of what Morales termed “the digital divide” – the lack of access to the everyday technology most Houstonians and most public-school students take for granted.

Morales cited Navarro Middle School in her district as a prime example of this vital missing learning link. She rallied the community and with the help of Navarro principal Emeterio Cruz determined the families in the most critical need.

You also must understand that HISD was experiencing the same computer crisis as almost every Texas school district – the difficulty in obtaining laptops for students for the necessary remote learning experience. The demand far outweighed the supply. The Morales plan would deal with what amounted to a public education emergency.

Morales and her family foundation developed a partnership with Comp-u-Dopt, a Houston computer refurbishing company which offered like-new laptops for $245.

Mejia told the Badge & Gun that this is when HPOU entered the picture, becoming another full partner in boosting the digital enablement of an underserved Eastside community. He said he learned of this crusade in early 2020 and sought to get the Union involved.

“The whole ball started rolling in February,” he explained, “and the Union provided funding in March. Rep. Morales set the stage. All she needed was the funding for refurbished laptops and desktops.

“With her and other organizations we helped with the digital divide.”

That initial funding amount was $7,500, enabling Morales and the foundation to purchase more than 75 laptops.

ATT provided coupons for six months of internet service for each recipient. Later in the crisis school year, the school district took delivery of more computers and the needs for the 2021 school year became less stressful.

HPOU Involvement Continues

HPOU’s involvement, however, did not end. Last month the HPOU Board voted to allot $3,500 to the effort. Conchita Reyes, board member of the Morales Foundation who works closely with Rep. Morales in the laptop distribution process, credited HPOU for its strong financial backing of the 2020 giveaway.

Reyes said the $7,500 funding last year enabled the foundation to “get a better deal” from Comp-u-Dopt, resulting in producing a louder answer to the digital divide.

“Not only is this helping the kids do their homework, but it also helps moms be able to research health and medical needs and for dads to look into job opportunities. Everything is electronic and, on the internet, where you have to sign up for this or sign up for that.”

She said HISD’s computer order finally came in, with the district able to supply more laptops to Eastside students as well as in other under-served schools. This meant that the need for the giveaway process diminished. She said the Union’s $3,500 donation was largely used for school supplies for students in schools like Navarro.

“We passed out 2,000 packages of school supplies out on Aug. 7,” Reyes reported, speaking of the date. Mejia, HPOU 1st Vice President Ken Nealy and Board Members Debbie Lahaie and David Vasquez participated in the one-day distribution process.”

“The impact we had was beyond words,” Mejia said. “We saw families cry when they got their first laptop. It changed the trajectory for children and their parents.

“We went into the community again two weeks ago for another giveaway for ‘back to school.’ Mayor Turner was there with other elected officials. It was a great turnout.

“I’m very proud to say our union is giving back to the community. It’s a cliché but we are ‘making a difference.’ I think we as an organization in our careers as police officers need to showcase all the good things we do and our relationship with the community.

“We are giving back to the community we serve. This is just one more great example.”