In 1998, after the death of my son Graham, I started a nonprofit in his honor called Grahamtastic Connection.

Our mission is to provide free technology to children with cancer and other serious illnesses for educational purposes. Technology, including iPads, laptops, robots, and internet access, enables our children to continue their education during treatment while also remaining connected to family, friends and medical providers.

Leslie Morissette

Simply stated, we connect kids when their world is out of reach.

In the 22 years since, the world — and the internet — has changed dramatically.

My family was the first in our neighborhood to have a computer with a dial-up internet connection. My son, Graham, loved computers and staying connected through email. His experiences and the urgent need for kids facing serious medical issues to stay connected to their friends and classes inspired the creation of Grahamtastic Connection.

The first child we helped to connect to the internet was a child a Scarborough. I remember lugging this huge computer to her home and the slow dial-up connection that brought the world to her.

Over time as technology has advanced, we’ve moved from massive desktop computers and dial-up connections, to not-so-massive laptops with DSL, to iPads and broadband that support classroom robots that kids at home or in the hospital can control.

The technology is amazing and it can make a world of difference to a child struggling with illness. But the backbone necessary to make it all work is having access to high speed internet. That’s why the board of directors of Grahamstastic Connection and I decided to support Question 1 on the July 14 statewide ballot in Maine.

Question 1 would invest $15 million in expanding high speed internet to unserved and underserved parts of the state. The bond dollars will then be matched by $30 million in local, private and federal support for a total investment of $45 million.

Children facing serious illness need that powerful connection

Not so long ago, we were working with a family in western Maine. We were able to place a tele-presence robot that could keep the child connected with his class remotely, but the school didn’t have the bandwidth for the technology to work.

In another case, a family of a child battling cancer was shut out because they simply couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars it would cost to run high speed internet to their home.

Our nonprofit, which is funded by donations, can provide kids with the very latest and best technology but, without the underlying infrastructure, they just can’t connect the way they need to.

Every child in Maine should have access to high speed internet. Question 1 will help move us in that direction.

This year when COVID-19 forced schools to move to remote learning, our kids were suddenly the experts, and the digital divide became more clear than ever.

The seriously ill children we work with are too sick to go the library or McDonald’s and sit in the parking lot to get a strong internet connection. But no kid should have to go those lengths just to get an education.

Access to high speed internet gives kids the tools to learn, to stay socially connected and to even see a doctor when they are forced to stay home.

Technology has advanced so far in just 20 years — bringing new opportunities to kids who really need it — that it’s impossible to predict how much things will change in the next 20 years.

But one thing that’s certain: If we want to stay connected, we have to invest in the underlying infrastructure that makes it all possible. That’s why I’m voting “yes” on Question 1 on July 14, and why I hope others will, too.

Leslie Morissette is the founder and executive director of Grahamtastic Connection in Springvale.

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