Technology center teaches digital literacy to computerless

Kelly Hwu, Reporter

Evanston residents on the wrong side of the city’s digital divide have been improving their computer literacy at a recent offshoot of the Youth Job Center.

The Community Technology Center opened in March after the local Illinois One Stop career center closed. The CTC provides Internet service to unemployed community members, allowing them to search for jobs online, and offers computer skills classes.

Staff say that a significant portion of Evanston residents lack basic computer skills and Internet knowledge because they don’t have computer access. Mo Schultz, CTC’s technology coordinator and trainer, teaches basic computing skills such as how to use Microsoft Word and Excel.

The CTC has more than 20 workstations and is open Monday through Thursday for YJC youth from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., the lab is open to the public. Schultz said although attendance was slow in the beginning, she has begun seeing regular faces in recent weeks.

“Through word of the masses, we’ve been getting a lot of referrals from community organizations like the Evanston library, LIFT Chicago, the YMCA and YWCA,” Schultz said.

Though YJC specifically assists Evanston youth, Schultz said she works with a variety of people, from high school dropouts to bachelor degree-holding participants looking for internships.

“We’ve had a lot of job seekers that are more experienced and aged who just want to get on their email and get on with their work,” Schultz said.

Don Piven, CTC lab assistant, said he thinks the CTC can be useful for everybody, especially given the importance of the web when it comes to searching and applying for employment. Piven performs computer maintenance and teaches the class “Intro to Computers and the Internet” at the center.

“I enjoy working with clients because they’re eager to learn,” Piven said. “They’re coming out of here with good marketable skills.”

The CTC currently has a self-guided word processor to teach visitors how to type and time their words per minute. In the future, the center will upgrade its resources by providing additional training opportunities through self-guided computer science programs, potentially including IC3 and the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification, Schultz said.

Schultz said she does not believe there is a lack of computer teaching in Evanston schools. Still, she said the CTC focuses on community members who may not have access to computers or technology education, including children. Other than young people, the CTC caters to active job seekers and people over the age of 25.

“We were able to secure funding and be open to not only serve the youth, but also the entire community,” Schultz said.

Aminata Musa, 19, heard about YJC from friends. After completing the 10-day training period required for YJC membership, Musa was assigned a counselor to assist with her job searching and networking.

“When you’re in this program, employers trust the YJC’s judgment, so it’s been easier to find jobs,” Musa said.