“It is my first time to touch computer and I am very happy.”
These were the words exclaimed by Zulfa Fara, an Ethiopian immigrant who was at a computer center developed through the Broadband Access Project (BAP), an outreach project of the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center (UROC). In response to the growing digital divide among underserved communities in the Twin Cities, UROC developed a project that aims to increase broadband access, awareness and use in four federally designated poverty zones in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The project is funded through a federal grant from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
The Minneapolis Public Housing-Glendale lab is one of 12 new or enhanced community based BAP computer centers throughout the metro area. While the Glendale lab is one of the smaller centers with only five computers, it can still have a large impact.
Kadra Abdi, a University of Minnesota employee who works at the Glendale center explained how the small size allows her to make strong connections with clients.
“We’re a small center so we don’t have a lot of training but we assist people in other ways. We give them one-on-one assistance; we sit with them as they’re trying to learn basic computer skills,” said Abdi.
Larger BAP computer labs offer technology training with classes covering topics such as Microsoft Office, financial support, social media for business use and even Internet programming and design. Through these classes and the assistance offered in each lab, BAP aims to help people develop to meet the increased technological demands of today’s world.
According to BAP sources, people of all ages find that computer use at these centers plays a large role in their everyday lives. Abdi taught Fara how to set up and use an email account so she can communicate in the workplace and with loved ones all over the world.
“I’m so happy, believe me or not, because I send to my kids email to Ethiopia, to Africa. In the job place also they send me (emails). It’s a big knowledge I get, big knowledge. (I’m) oh so happy,” said Fara.
Deshawn King, a regular visitor to the center, uses the computers to do homework and submit schoolwork. She is pursuing her Certified Medical Assistant degree from a local college and appreciates that there is no time limit on BAP computers, unlike those at the public libraries.
“You don’t get but an hour at the library and you have to let somebody else get in,” said King. “Here I’m able to get a lot in. Whenever I have to do homework and submit it, I’m able to do it over here. There’s a lot of lab work and stuff that we have to look up.”
Because King’s schoolwork requires a lot of time and effort having a computer center staffed with helpful employees keeps her motivated.
“I come here every day; every day because the work that you have to have for college is persistent. I don’t know what I would do without it, it would be very hard to submit my work,” King explained.
Not only does the center supply a beneficial resource to those with more professional pursuits, it also provides a way for young people to feel connected and involved with their peers through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“(Also people will come in) if they want to learn how to type or open their first email account, or if they just want to come in and build a resume and other things like job research, cover letters,” said Abdi. “If they want to set up a Facebook account; if they’ve never done it before or try to figure out how to use YouTube, those are just some of the things we can help with for our clients.”
In only a year working at the center, Abdi said she has been able see the lab positively impact people’s lives.
“I had people who came here and the computer lab helped them get a job because they were here to do their resumes. That was a really good thing to see,” said Abdi.
For more information on the BAP labs visit www.bap.umn.edu.