PPL innovation with mobile computer labs
By Ivan Phifer
MMMC Technology Reporter
August 20, 2010 (MINNEAPOLIS) – Project for Pride and Living (PPL), 1925 Chicago Avenue South, is a non-profit agency that has been providing services to Minneapolis communities for 38 years. The agency assists low-income individuals and families with housing, education, employment training, and support services. The agency opened the PPLLearning Center, its first computer lab and job training program, five years ago at the Chicago and Franklin headquarters location.
Sarah Koschinska heads PPL’s self-sufficiency program and leads PPL’s digital inclusion efforts. She co-chairs PPL’s technology directing team. Previously, she was PPL’s community technology manager and assisted in developing and opening the learning center.
PPL is one of 11 public computer centers networked under the University of Minnesota Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center’s (UROC) the Broadband Access Project.
The Broadband Access Project enabled purchase of 14 new laptop computers to equip an innovative mobile computer lab for PPL’s 4046 Lyndale Avenue North housing complex which consists of three buildings, each containing 25 apartments. The mobile lab brings computer access to all three buildings.
The Broadband Access Project (BAP) promotes broadband awareness, access and usage in designated areas of North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis, Southeast Minneapolis, andSummit University and the Westside in St Paul, targeting neighborhoods that are heavily African American, African, Latino, Native American and Asian.
BAP provides high speed internet access to support the centers. The centers present University-developed training promoting education, workforce preparation, health care and community revitalization. This Broadband Access Project is lead by UROC’s Office of Business Community and Economic Development, and the Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium (MMMC).
UROC recruited, hired and trained a number of residents to become technology apprentices, enabling them to provide training in computer literacy. The apprentices do technology training, teach how to do job searches and provide resume assistance to residents who use the computer centers.
“The apprentices and team leaders at the PPL housing site are a key component to the success of this project. They provide the technology literacy in the computer centers for training, assistance and one on one support,” Koschinska said. “Having that apprentice, to work with youth and families one-on-one, is really important,” she said.
PPL’s mission is to help low-income families achieve self-sufficiency. “It is really the combination of breaking down the access barrier, and providing the technology literacy to help bridge the gap of the digital divide,” Koschinska said.
“In our housing we have a lot of families. We have multi-use community rooms. We run after school and summer programming with AmeriCorp members facilitating the program,” she said.
The team leaders hold resident meetings, family programming and community building activities. The computer lab serves residents of the complex. “We will be taking the lab to some of our other community rooms where families are because we know that access is a big barrier,” she said.
PPL reported that during the first half of 2009, there was a 65% increase in visits to the PPL computer lab compared to the same period in 2008.
“You can’t fill out an application, or even get an entry level job, without basic computer skills,” Koschinska said.
Examples of the basics include filling out time cards online, or receiving announcements from Human Resources via email, and a work order system that is electronic.
“Just having the computers without the technology literacy training is not enough to help bridge the digital divide,” said Koschinska.
For children it is more essential, she said. By middle school, children are receiving assignments that require hefty amounts of research and projects that require technology skills. “For low-income families, this is a barrier because they do not have working computers in the home,” said Koschinska.
A few stories from staff at the Learning Center illustrate the great need for technology access and training.
Laura Benson, a Learning Center staff, provided an example of how she reviewed the curriculum. She thought it was easy. She said to the class, “grab your mouse” and the class looked at her in awe, waiting for instructions. When she said pick up the mouse, they began looking on the floor for an actual mouse. “It didn’t hit me until then that they did not know what a mouse was,” she recalled.
The demographics are telling. “The people who are still behind are seniors, communities of color and those who have less income or education. Age is another contributing factor. North Minneapolis doesn’t have as many computer labs, or have the same public access as their counterparts in more affluent Minneapolis or suburban neighborhoods,” Koschinska noted.
Another team leader explained how those who have families overseas benefit from BAP. Somali immigrants, she explained, once gaining access were able to feel more confident in their abilities to get a job, and increased computer skills overtime. They have also connections to AOL online resources to practice English and feel more connected and engaged in their communities. This access has also enabled them to keep in contact with their families overseas. They can talk to relatives for free via email, versus saving up money for a simple phone call, or plane ticket, the team leader said.
From what the program has provided so far, Broadband Access Project seems to have made a difference. “We are really excited to have this project in North Minneapolis,” Koschinska said.
For more information on additional programs, visit the PPL website at http://www.ppl-inc.org/about, or call (612) 455-5100
This feature is part of a series created by Minnesota Multicultural Media Consortium and the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach/Engagement Center Broadband Access Project. For more information contact Al McFarlane, editor MMMC Technology Reporter Project at 612-695-0417 or [email protected].