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High tech training connects Hacienda residents to college, careers

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by James HillThe partnershipThe Hacienda Community Development Corp. and Portland Community College have entered a three-way partnership with Hewlett Packard to help fight the widening gap of the lack of access to technology for residents of north Portland.Hacienda.At four Hacienda housing development locations, PCC’s Skill Center is using a $180,000 one-time donation of equipment and cash by Hewlett Packard to provide children and parents with computer skills. Starting April 2003, Skill Center instructors teach four classes at the housing developments’ computer labs, providing each student with a computer and the latest software and high-speed Internet connections to learn basic skills. According to an U.S. Department of Commerce report, "Falling through the Net II,"certain groups are still less likely to have computers or online access. In Portland, middle-class families have a computer ownership rate of 70 percent but for people who make $25,000 or less, the ownership rate drops to 26 percent. The Hacienda-PCC partnership is designed to change that.The classesInstruction includes basic computer operations, adult computer literacy, Microsoft product certification, computer training and academics for youth, and Internet access and use of information, e-services and e-solutions. The partnership will educate 150 youth and adults from Portland’s low-income communities.Is it working? Ask those who attend the weekly classes at Los Jardines De La Paz on 60th Avenue and North Killingsworth Street. Jamala Noor came to the United States from Somalia seven years ago. Being so far away from home, she said computer training like this is invaluable for her to communicate and eventually get the training she needs to find a job. "I like it,"she said. "They teach you everything about computers. In the future, I’d like to work with computers so I really would like to learn."Her friend, Samiira Maalow, also from Somalia, finds the class helpful in her quest to find future employment. "The teachers are excellent and we learn how to use computers,"she said. "The best part is learning how to write letters and type on the keyboard."Marcia Jones, Skill Center instructor, said students have been very happy with the classes. "Some are intimidated by the technology at first, having had no opportunity to access computers before,"she said. "But as they continue in the environment, they begin to feel more comfortable. They get to know the Internet and learn word processing, which are both useful tools for immigrants. We keep it light and show how learning about computers can open doors for them."James Bowles with the Skill Center said it’s another way of reaching out to an under-served population and getting them interested in continuing their education. "We want them to make the connection with education ? the more computer training they get, the more desire they’ll have to learn more. It creates a pathway to the college."Project historyHacienda and PCC began talks in summer 2002 on ways to help residents gain basic skills. They were trying to incorporate the four Hacienda developments’ community centers into a learning program when Hewlett Packard contacted Hacienda about providing computer support. From there, the pieces for the new basic skills class fell into place."The partnership with Hewlett Packard allows us to eliminate the huge cost of the equipment so that we can focus more on funding instruction,"said Jose Rivera, who has worked as the Hacienda Community Development Corp.’s chief executive officer since 1998. Currently, there are about 80 people from the Hacienda developments taking part in the classes at their community centers. They range from parents to high school and middle-school students. The classes meet several times a week, two to three hours per session, for 11 weeks. Besides the brand new desktop computers, the Hacienda sites have 15 laptops that students can take home and finish homework. Hacienda Community Development Corp. began 10 years ago and currently has four housing sites on Killingsworth Street (Villa de Clara Vista, Los Jardines de la Paz, Villa de Mariposa and Plaza de Sol). Each site consists of about 40 units with an average family size of five. "This is an excellent vehicle for education,"Rivera said of the partnership with PCC. "Hopefully, this will encourage the participants to continue to pursue education in high technology areas. It’s an opportunity for them to get involved in different software equipment that they normally wouldn’t have access to."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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