Marathon’s Rotary Club identified a need early on in the pandemic, when the Monroe County School District switched to virtual learning at the end of the last school year in March. Not every student has access to the internet at home. And while the school district was able to provide Chromebooks, they are as useful as a paperweight without the ability to connect to the web. 

Immediately, Marathon Rotary Club President Sam Williams and Duane Webster put their heads together to come up with a one-word solution: hotspots. The device looks like a little box and fits in the palm of your hand.

“Duane found a Facebook grant that was looking at doing something similar, but the rollout was going to just take too long,” said Williams.

Webster, working with the Monroe County School District’s IT Director Joy Nulisch, started by coming up with a number of students needing connectivity. At first, the number was as high as 250, but that was narrowed down and some of the students were served by other programs. In the end, the Rotary Club procured 150 hotspots for households throughout the island chain, some of which have siblings both enrolled in Keys schools. 

The hotspots are managed through the school system, just as it does wifi in schools, restricting access to some websites.

“This was the best way to handle the situation. We didn’t want the kids to access adult sites, or malicious sites,” Webster said. 

The hotspots were procured at a very low cost by piggybacking on an existing contract. Webster said: “Just like when you switch carriers and get a free phone, or something like that.”

But the Rotary Club still had to find a way to pay for the service, akin to a monthly phone bill. That’s when the Ocean Reef Community Foundation stepped in and offered to help pay that cost.  

Williams said he’s proud of the way Marathon Rotary Club networked and selflessly donated its time to find a solution for local students. 

“The Rotary Club is about service above self,” he said.

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.