The ongoing expansion of community outreach at the Church of St. Philip’s in north Minneapolis has been given a boost with the addition of a fully-updated public computer center that features high-speed Internet, free computer classes, and staff to help individuals who want to learn more about computers.
The addition of high-speed Internet along with new computer equipment and support services through the University of Minnesota Broadband Access Project (BAP) (http://www.bap.umn.edu/) has increased the church’s abilities to meet its outreach mission.
Father Jules Omba, originally from Congo, Africa, is pastor of the 300-member Catholic parish of St. Philip’s, 2507 Bryant Ave. N., where he has served since July 2008.
“We now have 20 new computers and new furniture, chairs and tables for our computer center,” says Father Jules. “We have classes for software, and other computer based training. This extends our outreach and service to the community.”
The computer center at St. Philip’s is one of the 11 public computer sites under the BAP to receive a new computer lab. It is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.
The BAP is a $3.6 million program of the University of Minnesota whose purpose to create high-speed Internet (broadband) access awareness, in partnership with the Office for Business and Community Economic Development (BCED) and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC) (http://multiculturallife.org/).
The BAP, envisioned as a service to bridge the digital divide for under-resourced sections of the Twin Cities, has created computer centers in four federally-designated poverty zones: north Minneapolis, south Minneapolis, southeast Minneapolis, and west St. Paul. The community groups in these areas are typically African American, Latino, Native American, Somali, and Hmong.
Faisal Ahmed is St. Philip’s BAP technology apprentice. Having received training in broadband technology, software, and support services, BAP apprentices such as Ahmed can provide technical support and assist computer center users with different software programs and skills such as resume writing and job searching.
“We are so blessed to receive these 20 new computers,” Father Jules says. “ And BAP provides staff, and high speed Internet. All we need now are people to come in, to use the computers, and ask for service.”
Father Jules said when he first came to Twin Cities, people warned him, “’Father, why are you going in North Minneapolis? It is a crazy place and you won’t like it! There is a lot of crime, a lot of violence, it’s an evil place.’” So, Father Jules says, “it is for these very same reasons I felt the need to come here.
“If churches, community and schools are willing to help out the students,” he says, “this can be a healthy, safe and secure neighborhood. We cannot ignore north Minneapolis. It’s a shame. ”
There are several other ongoing programs at St. Philip’s including the after-school Kids Club and the College Bound. At Kids Club—4:30 . to 6:30 p.m.—children do homework, use computers and eat a meal.
The College Bound group meets Wednesdays during the school year. Meals are served at 6:30 p.m. followed by homework in the computer lab. Students receive assistance with math, science and English.
These two programs were designed in response to the issue of parents not being able to be at home after school. “They like to come here to do their homework, and have volunteers help them out,” Father Jules says. “It is about education, and providing a safe place for children to play, to learn how to respect one another, and to become involved in the community.”
Additionally there is a six-week summer program that includes meals and student instruction in the computer lab, plus access to a children’s library. Father Jules says he has no procedure for enrollment for these programs. All participants need to do is come in and sign up.
St. Philip’s has regular parish programs as well—choir; children’s choir; Chorale Sainte Marie, the new French African choir; Renouveau Charismatique; social justice and literacy programs; ministry for French-speaking Africans, and outreach ministry.
The outreach ministry organizes different groups of people for social activities, including hospitality after Mass. “We offer doughnuts, bread and cakes here every Sunday for whoever would like to have some food,” says Father Jules. “Every second Saturday of the month we give bags of food to whoever needs it. We have support from Christ the King Catholic Church in South Minneapolis. Most of our food donations come from there.”
Last summer the neighborhood community and Minnesota Vikings players helped to set up a playground on the Nellie Stone Johnson School site across from St. Philip’s. “It was very exciting. Many people came over and the community was involved, students parents and even myself. I think if this community works together, it can stand in peace and security,” says Father Jules.
This article, St. Philip’s Church, was prepared by (Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium) under award #27-42-B10003 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Commerce.