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NKY Candymaker Joins Effort to Boost Digital Access for NKY Students

The maker of Mentos and Airheads candy is joining the United Way of Greater Cincinnati and Cincinnati Bell to help deliver internet access to students across Northern Kentucky as part of its annual community day.

Erlanger-based Perfetti Van Melle is celebrating the plan with an employee drive-through parade at its parking lot on Tuesday.

Perfetti Van Melle donated $10,000 to the Northern Kentucky Digital Equity Initiative for Students, specifically targeting the Erlanger/Elsmere School District, and making money available for students in five Northern Kentucky counties to access Wi-Fi for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a privilege to help make life sweeter in our community through supporting this Digital Equity Initiative,” said Sylvia Buxton, president and CEO of Perfetti Van Melle North America. “Giving back where our Perfetti Van Melle employees live and work is a big part of our identity and values. We love that we can help many more students in Northern Kentucky get equal access to virtual learning, and help close the learning achievement gap, especially with all the challenges students and families are facing because of COVID-19. 

“Since we could not hold our traditional yearly all-company shut down for a day of hands-on community service due to COVID-19, we were thrilled to discover we could use our Community Day resources to make a big virtual impact in the community through United Way’s Digital Equity Initiative.” 

“We appreciate Perfetti Van Melle for recognizing the great need in their own back yard and stepping forward to be part of a United solution,” said Moira Weir, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. “Maintaining educational and social ties during COVID-19 is the way to academic growth and positive mental health. Let’s leave no student behind.” 

The NKY Digital Equity Initiative for Students focuses on increasing digital equity through pilot programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky tailored to meet the needs of local school districts, the United Way said in a news release.

Amanda Greenwell, director of United Way’s Northern Kentucky Area Center, said approximately 10 percent of the 60,000 K-12 students in Northern Kentucky lack Internet service at home.

“Virtual learning presents a unique set of challenges to any family, but a lack of reliable internet access makes things especially difficult right out of the gate,” said Stefanie Stubblefield, instructional coordinator for technology at Erlanger-Elsmere Schools.

United Way has worked with multiple funders and Cincinnati Bell to extend access to nearly 1,500 students in Kenton, Boone, Campbell, Pendleton and Grant counties, the organization said.

Those who want to support the effort can text “NKYWIFI” to 71777. A $78 donation connects a household for six months of service at $12.99 a month. 

“We know we still have children in need, so every dollar counts,” Greenwell said. “School districts throughout Northern Kentucky have aggressively identified families to ensure everyone has equal access.” 

-Staff report