Grow with Google event held in Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee News/ Cathy Womble
A Grow with Google event was conducted at the Okeechobee County Public Library on Friday, Feb. 21.

OKEECHOBEE — A “Grow with Google” educational forum took place at the Okeechobee County Public Library on Friday, Feb. 21. Free workshops were given throughout the day beginning at 10:30 a.m. and continuing until 5 p.m. According to their press release, the aim of the workshops was “to help everyone across America — those who make up the workforce of today and those who will drive the workforce of tomorrow — access the best of Google’s training and tools to grow their skills, careers and businesses.”

Lake Okeechobee News/ Cathy Womble
Library Director Kresta King spoke to the attendees before the workshops began.

The event began with opening remarks from Okeechobee County Library Director Kresta King, who said when she began her first job working in a library in 1999, there was no Google there yet, and she remembers her first search. She had been on the job about a month. Bill Gates gave libraries computers, and a little box popped up asking if the user wanted to do a search or to click on “I’m feeling lucky.” Being librarians, they had to debate a while about that, she said.

But, in that year alone, they saved thousands of dollars, because they used to have to purchase a book called the “Polk Directory.” It was nothing but business addresses, and it cost $800 per volume, and they could not have just one. Her tiny library in West Virginia spent $3,000 a year on those books alone.

“So, Google is a librarian’s friend,” she said. “I can’t tell you the amount of money they have saved us over the years in resources.” She also mentioned that in Okeechobee we no longer have a Social Security office, and people go to the library to take care of things pertaining to that. This year the census will be completed online. If you do not have a home computer, you are instructed to go to the library.

Lake Okeechobee News/ Cathy Womble
One-on-one coaching was available all day for anyone who needed help.

When Google came out in 1999, everyone thought it would kill libraries, but Google has turned out to be a library’s best friend, she said. “We love Google.”

State Librarian Amy Johnson also spoke and said: “Florida libraries are filling the digital skills gap with technology access, training and support in their communities. Public libraries can play an important role in helping our state become future-ready.” Ms. Johnson was most excited about the Grow with Google partner program. It provides access to free resources, workshop materials and hands-on help from Google. “This workshop is only the beginning,” she said. To learn more about the partner program, you can visit grow.google/partners or email them at gwgpartners@google.com.

Google Communications and Public Affairs Manager Katherine Williams said “Grow with Google” was started in 2017 and it is their initiative and commitment to help Americans build their skills, careers and businesses in a digital economy using free tools and resources. She also mentioned that Google.com/grow has all the curriculum they used at the workshop available online for free if anyone could not make it to the workshop.

Okeechobee County Commissioner Brad Goodbread did a little exercise to make sure everyone was alert and ready for their first workshop to begin. He asked everyone to say the word “silk,” three times quickly. Then he asked what cows drank, and the majority of the room responded, “milk!” He laughed and told them no, “Cows drink water.”

Lake Okeechobee News/ Cathy Womble
People used the coaches for anything from help with setting up email accounts to making their businesses more accessible online.

He went on to thank Google for coming. “We are a small county but trying our best to grow, and we really appreciate you coming out here,” he said. “As everyone knows, if you are going to have a vibrant business community, you have to have a well-trained workforce. The computer age is upon us, and you need it for everything. I remember our first computer out at the ranch,” he said.

That was back in ’85 or ’86. We had a choice to get a 20-megabyte hard disc or a 40. I said let’s go with the 40, and the guy told me we would never use it. It would last me the rest of my life. I would never fill it, and now that’s five pictures on your phone.”

The workshops offered were:
• Empower Your Community with Digital Skills: A Workshop for Nonprofits;
• Get Your Business Online;
• Reach Customers Online with Google; and,
• Digital Skills for Everyday Tasks.
They also offered one-on-one coaching all day.

Andres Ramirez is one of the coaches. His mom is a small business owner in South Florida. She has a party rental and event coordinating business. A lot of the people he helps remind him of his mother and the business she has and the ways Google can help her. He has lived in California for five years now, too, so he has enjoyed the chance to come back to Florida and work with people here and give back to the Florida communities.

The people he talks to are usually at all different levels — from people who have never even sent an email to people who know their way around a computer but need help with making their business more accessible online. His specialty is Google ads, Google analytics and Google My Business. Some of the other volunteers specialize in other areas. They can help them with setting up an email account or recovering a password or with Google Docs, those types of things.

Anyone who missed the event can go to Google.com/grow to access the workshops for free.

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