Technology is all around, in abundance. And some might even complain there too much technology at our avail. As with a tsunami or hurricane which turns the positive benefits of water into a destructive force, what good are stores filled with pricey techno-tools if those who most need it can’t afford to buy it?
Digital literacy is not always de jour, because in the world of technology, you have to pay to play. Computers and broadband access cost money, and for those on fixed incomes, very low-income or no income, participating online can sometimes seem next to impossible.
Some non-profit organizations are addressing this issue.
In a neighborhood close to San Francisco’s City Hall is the Western Addition Community Technology Center. It’s a place of community devoted to using digital photography, art and technology to transform and heal the lives of young and old alike.
At WACTC one can learn how to build a resume, use computers to learn about genealogy, search online for jobs, edit digital photos, paint in Adobe Photoshop, troubleshoot computer problems and develop a host of other useful skills.
Felton Cogell is the center’s director, and in a recent group discussion, he and a few of the center’s clients shared their thoughts about the WACTC.
The Western Addition Community Technology Center
by Max Eternity
Max Eternity (ME): So how did the center come about?
Felton Cogell (FC): During the late 1990’s with President Clinton, he allocated so many dollars, because he felt there was going to be a digital divide. Many states had money, so we got support from the feds, the state and the city to open the center.
ME: How did you get involved—why?
I’ve been seeking out this type of work since the late 90’s. I had worked as a network administrator, and when I realized how much I knew, I felt like this is what I wanted to do. A friend who knew me thought I would be a good fit, but they had hired someone already. So I tried to get the next position; taking a position as an instructor. Then I got promoted, working with seniors—the elderly. I realized then that everyone works at a different rate, in a different way.
ME: So, tell me about your connection to technology and creativity.
FC: I’ve been a photographer for 40 years. I’ve always had that artistic edge in me. I’ve never been school trained, but I’ve been painting for many years. I’d been using Photoshop for several years—growing along with it. So, I teach courses that I have a lot of interest in.
I also teach genealogy.
I’m doing the things I like to do. It’s not work. I’ve established some great relationships. A lot of people have come here to learn.
ME: How do you describe the digital divide?
It’s people who don’t have access to the digital world by having a computer at home that’s working, and having access to the internet. They miss out in those two areas; not able to come home and practice. A lot of homework has to be done online. So, that affects homework, because there’s not computers and broadband at home.
Today the digital divide affects mainly the poor, who can’t afford a computer and broadband. And what makes it even worse, is that there are [physical] community divides.
ME: How are you clients benefiting from what you offer?
Some people have gotten better jobs, and they’ve gotten promotions if they’ve already had jobs. This particular community has a lot of crime; a lot of people who were dealing drugs got a second start here. I have personally hired people from the community who had been prior incarcerated. Not all have had problems with the law, but many have.
I’m finding people in the 50’s are struggling, because they don’t’ know the programs—Microsoft Office, et all. And they are competing with high school graduates. This group is in a tough place, but with the 20 to 40 crowd, I’ve seen a lot of success.
WACTC Students Comment
Louvenia Williams says:
I’m 81. I was here when they built the building. I’ve been here 8 or 9 years, first learning general software, then Photoshop. I found that I loved it–that’s been my focus ever since. Some of [my] the old family photographs, I’ve tried restoring. Because they were in black and white, I’ve added color to a few of them.
Well, since I am retired, I feel like a family here. I look forward to coming to the center. We have our picnics, field trips…we celebrate birthdays.
It keeps my mind active to be involved. I walk to the center, so it’s good exercise. It benefits me in many ways.
James Smith says:
I’m 75 years old. I’ve been coming here since the first of the year. I found out about it through one of my lodge members. I need to learn about computers, and about taking pictures. Every time I go somewhere people ask me if I’ve brought pictures back. I never did, but now I’m trying to play catch-up to bring pictures back.
I’m meeting my expectations. I enjoy the camaraderie of all the people here. They’ve all been helpful. Sometimes the students tend to help with the instructors. It is beginning to be like a family. When someone is missing, you miss them. You get used to them being here.
I had been buying computers for my children. I didn’t want to get involved myself, but I reluctantly decided to switch over. I’m enjoying it too.
Doretha Albert says:
I’m 72. I’ve been coming here since 2002. I worked as a registered nurse for 36 years and at that time I had secretaries doing data input. Once I returned, I knew nothing about computers. I knew nothing about email…or nothing. One day I was at church and they announced they were opening a computer center, and I enrolled. I came and learned how to do emails. At the time we learned how to do copy and paste. We had different programs, like Publisher. We learned how to make mailing envelops, and how to do business cards. The class did a newsletter. This was in the first year.
I enjoy working on computers, using Photoshop. It’s my pride and joy.
For more information about the WACTC, contact Resource Manager, Melanee Hall @ 415 431 2206