Voices From the Lab: Giving Back in the Lab

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Irvin and Francisco, both aged 19, are regulars at the Mission Milby Community Development Center (MMCDC), a local nonprofit in a Houston neighborhood rife with low incomes and lower educational attainment called Pecan Park. Both boys have lived this community, graduated from the local high school, and still work and volunteer at the community center that offered them a safe and fun place to go after school and during summers.

Their relationship with MMCDC began thanks in part to the public computer center. A bright room with brand new equipment, the center offers open lab sessions and free computer courses to the community through Technology For All (TFA), a partner nonprofit that embeds public computer centers in community-based organizations throughout southeast Texas.

This process is part of their Texas Connects Coalition project, which empowers rural and urban Texans through digital literacy and access thanks to grants from the government, organizations and companies like Microsoft, which donated a major software grant that allows TFA trainers to teach the newest version of programs like Microsoft Office, which in turn better prepares users for new or better jobs.

Irvin and Francisco both use these programs in the lab. While both have a history of volunteerism at the center, Irvin was recently hired to work with the youth as one of MMCDC’s newest employees. Francisco, who now attends San Jacinto Community College, was required to learn Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel across the street at Milby High School. There was a free computer lab at school as well, he says, “But you had to have a permit to use it.” Instead, he practiced in the TFA lab, where a TFA trainer named Ken worked with him. He still visits because at San Jacinto, “It’s completely quiet and you’re very aware of yourself.” It’s a different environment at the TFA lab. “You know Ken. If you have a question, you just ask. Your confidence level over here is actually higher.” In fact, his mother began taking Ken’s computer basics class in the evenings. “When she comes home, she wants to get on my laptop and practice. She’s really learning.”

Their work at MMCDC puts them in a position to work with others who benefit as well. Besides helping Milby High School students use Microsoft Office for homework, Irvin and Francisco also participated in MMCDC’s Lights on Broadway, a contest where local youth planned, shot and edited their own videos in the TFA lab. Every student had access to Microsoft Word for story planning, Windows Movie Maker for editing, and Ken and Irvin for using the programs correctly. The films were then shown at a fundraising event that included family, friends and youth from the neighboring high school and middle school.

Both boys used their films to spread a message. Francisco’s team used homelessness as a narrative tool to argue against bowing to circumstance. Irvin’s team took a more personal approach: their film focused on cyberbullying, a problem he’s seen in the youth he serves at MMCDC.

“All the kids are on Facebook and other sites, and they all have a hundred friends but only know a few,” says Irvin. “I’ve seen jokes turn big and drastic in a few seconds because it spreads so fast. It affects the kids and their families outside the lab.”

After the film was shown, Irvin was pleasantly surprised with the same youth and their families. “They came up and said how much they liked it. Made my day.” He’s also noticed positive changes in the lab: “They think about what they put on Facebook now, at least most of them.”

Both volunteers plan to join up next year. “The kids that participated had fun, learned something new. I think next year, the kids who saw their friends win will join too,” Irvin says. “I can tell everybody had fun, adds Francisco, who won second place. “It was really collaborative, ideas everywhere.”

Mission Milby Community Development Corporation is a nonprofit serving Houston’s Pecan Park and Greater East End neighborhoods. It offers classes on exercise, computers and more. For more information, call (713) 454-6464 or visit 2220 Broadway.

Source: Technology For All-Houston

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