When a Cell Phone is a Lifeline: Helium Mobile Offering Real-World Solutions

Cell phone and Wi-Fi services are essential tools for today’s digital society. Helium Mobile helps make them accessible to all.

When a Cell Phone is a Lifeline: Helium Mobile Offering Real-World Solutions

In January, as a tornado bore down on St. Petersburg, Nadine Smith saw a young man in distress. He had come to St. Petersburg for his mother’s funeral but had no money or relatives in Florida to help him return home. With tornado warnings blaring, Nadine called emergency services and shelters, but none had room. The police offered little help, leaving him stranded and unfamiliar with the area.

Nadine took him to Williams Park, where she knew some of the unhoused community. No one had a cell phone and hadn’t heard the emergency broadcast tornado warning. They promised to take the young man and head for high ground. Over the next few days, Nadine contacted local organizations to explore programs providing cell phones for those seeking employment, housing, healthcare, or family reconnection opportunities. That roadside intervention to help a young man led Nadine to Helium Mobile, an innovative solution that has already helped nearly a dozen locals find a safe place to live, reconnect with family, and secure a job.

Introducing Nadine Smith

To Nadine, fighting for change, acceptance, and innovation is nothing new. She currently serves as the Executive Director of Equality Florida and in 2022 was named to the Time100, TIME's annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

She also serves on the board of St. Pete Free Clinic (SPFC), a local agency that serves low-income and unhoused populations with food and housing options. Nadine reached out to SPFC leaders and began to formulate a strategy to get cell phones and greater internet access to those falling through the cracks of the digital divide. In an exciting and inspiring interview, we sat down with her to discuss how Helium Mobile is making that possible.

Food, Water, Shelter, and Connectivity

Nadine recognized that connectivity is as crucial as food, water, and shelter. For the unhoused and low-income populations, a cell phone can significantly enhance their quality of life by providing access to emergency services, healthcare, job opportunities, housing resources, maintained family connections, and more.

The Federal Shortfall: Shrinking and Inadequate Programs

Federal programs meant to provide digital access are falling short, especially for the unhoused, who are the most in need. The Lifeline Assistance Program (LAP), intended to help low-income Americans with phone service, is insufficient. The plans provided under LAP offer limited internet access, which does not meet the demands of today’s digital world.

Worse yet, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which provided low-cost internet service, has been defunded. This vital program ceased accepting new enrollments earlier this year and officially ended in May 2024. As federal support dwindles, many are left without essential connectivity. The combination of shrinking funds and inadequate reach means that local and federal government efforts are not enough to bridge the digital divide for those who need it most.

Helium Mobile: A Beacon of Hope

Nadine found a promising alternative in Helium Mobile. Connectivity was affordable, easy to install, supported a wide range of devices, and offered access to nationwide coverage.

“[Helium Mobile’s] plan was to change the way cell phone service was provided, not only through massive cell phone towers but through small Hotspots that could create a canopy of cell and Wi-Fi service in a community. The company created an incentive program that rewarded users by lowering their monthly fees for helping map the network's coverage.

It seemed we might be able to replace the defunct ACP with the help of the city, business leaders, and nonprofit service providers. Essentially, every Hotspot placed in businesses or locations by the city could generate rewards to underwrite a portion of the cost of the phone and subscription.”

Early Success in the Community

A month after the tornadoes, Nadine’s team partnered with Allendale United Methodist Church to assist a group of 14 unhoused individuals. They distributed smartphones with Helium Mobile subscriptions, leading to immediate positive impacts.

  • One recipient used his newfound connectivity to locate long-term shelter. He shared his positive experience via his new phone, and within a week, four others had joined him.
  • Three others secured placements in a group home, a transition facilitated by their ability to communicate directly with housing services.
  • Another man used his new phone to reconnect with his family and explore new job opportunities.
  • One woman was able to save her job and even take on extra shifts, as she could now be reached reliably by her employer.

Within just two weeks of getting connected on Helium Mobile, there was already a measurable positive impact on the community.

Community Support and Future Expansion

Encouraged by early results, Nadine aims to broaden the initiative. Her next strategy involves deploying Helium Mobile Hotspots throughout the community with the support of local businesses, nonprofits, and government entities. MOBILE rewards from these Hotspots will be used to help the community subsidize the costs of their Helium Mobile service and new cell phones. The local government is also interested in deploying Hotspots as a way to expand public Wi-Fi access and improve overall connectivity for all local residents.

For Nadine, what started as a simple act of kindness has evolved into a scalable initiative benefiting her community and changing the lives of the people around her. This initiative not only responds to an immediate crisis and urgent need but also represents a long-term investment in the connectivity and resilience of St. Petersburg’s most vulnerable populations.

Nadine has always advocated for innovation, and through her partnership with Helium Mobile, the dream of affordable and accessible connectivity is within reach.

How You Can Help

To support this transformative project, you can donate cell phones or host Hotspots by reaching out to Nadine.

If you are affected by the end of ACP or interested in learning how Helium Mobile can benefit your nonprofit, visit hellohelium.com.

To get in touch with our team, visit the business page and reach out today!