Howard County recently launched “Transform Howard,” a digital equity initiative to expand digital inclusion and increase community access to broad-band. Transform Howard’s programs include a new mobile-friendly website with features making it accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The new site also prioritized making important content easier to find for residents, businesses, and visitors.
Howard County also has the distinction of being the first county in Maryland to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 50 percent of its residents and is currently the only jurisdiction in the state to have more than 70 percent of residents 12 and over fully vaccinated. Howard County is on the ball – Dr. Calvin Ball.
In the past year, County Executive Ball has led a thorough response to COVID-19, including distributing vital funds to residents and businesses, standing up COVID-19 testing facilities, and implementing vaccine distribution plans.
“We are not only breaking down barriers, but showing that there is equity, and addressing some of the hesitancy that we’re seeing,” said Dr. Ball referencing Howard County’s successful vaccination rate. “I am just so pleased that we’ve been able to not only address some of the barriers, but in working with pastors and faith communities and apartment complexes, making it so that some of the hesitancy gets ameliorated.
“When people see their pastor, or someone else who they trust, get vaccinated and making sure that they have protection against the virus, it helps. We want people to get the vaccine and we want to save lives.”
Dr. Ball is the first African American to serve as Howard County Executive. As county executive, he established the mission to efficiently, effectively, and respectfully serve the residents, businesses, and visitors of Howard County, Maryland. His vision is to innovatively expand opportunity and foster the best quality of life for all who live, work, or visit Howard County.
“Transform Howard is an exciting initiative,” said Dr. Ball. “One of the key points of Transform Howard is our digital equity. I think we have seen throughout the pandemic, that yes, there were issues and problems that came about. But frankly, more than that, issues and problems were revealed. You know, when it comes to co-morbidities, people had diabetes and heart disease before the pandemic, but it made them more vulnerable.
“Digital equity was something we saw creating even more of a chasm when it came to education. Particularly when it came to people needing things online and having online services. So, in September 2020, we established a partnership with the Bright Minds Foundation.”
Through the partnership with the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) and the Bright Minds Foundation, devices and mobile hotspots were provided to students. As students returned to in-person learning, the County worked with the school system to increase broadband capacity in school buildings to support a hybrid learning model. Howard County was able to provide a seamless learning experience for students, whether they were in-person or remote learners.
“We’re very excited about establishing broadband and digital inclusion,” said Dr. Ball. “It’s going to ensure that residents in underserved areas have access to the digital world. Transform Howard is not only a name, but it’s a mission. “We’ve expanded Wi-Fi to twelve locations around the region including fire stations, parks and even Long Reach Village Center, one of the largest village centers in the country,” said Dr. Ball. “We will continue to increase the number of sites.”
Howard County has also expanded the partnership to provide all Internet services for the school system, including upgrading their broadband infrastructure. Howard County has also begun a study to determine areas of digital needs across the county. The study will result in a detailed plan to increase digital equity over the next three to five years.
County Executive Ball holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religion from Towson State University, Master of Arts in Legal and Ethical Studies from the University of Baltimore, where he was nominated for the Spirit of Excellence Award, and Doctor of Education from Morgan State University. County Executive Ball is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP, and in 2012, founded the Diversity Caucus of MACo, the first statewide caucus for county elected officials of color.
Noting he is a former employee of The Baltimore Times, Dr. Ball said: “I became Howard County Executive because I want to help people. I want to bring people together to make our community a better place for all. I want people to have a voice and feel empowered and emboldened to live their best life.”
Howard County’s new website can be accessed at www.howardcountymd.gov.