A couple of librarians, a handful of volunteers, and a few thousand bucks can bring a kid a long way.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Serious Fun- Laura Acevedo-Cabrera makes a card for her mom, using a computer paid for by the Neighborhood Grants Program.
Silvestre Montejano doesn''t look the part of an avid library goer. A soft-spoken teen who will be a North County High freshman in the fall, Montejano wears Walkman-style headphones, a blue-and-white nylon Nike jacket and baggy pants. He is at the Castroville Library almost every day after school, slouched low in a computer chair, building his own Web site-with links to music lyrics, Spanish and English poetry and pictures of cars, hearts and the Mexican flag.
Soon, Montejano and the rest of "The Group" will start producing DVDs about Castroville and the youth who live there.
The Group-the Castroville Community Computer Project-began about three years ago. It''s not officially affiliated with the library, although the library has become the unofficial hangout of the Computer Project crew.
They''re not all that organized, admits Sally Childs, one of the Project''s founding members, "but we fit Castroville very well. A lot of The Group is related, or they know each other well. We''re very much like a family. We are of the community."
In 1999, librarians and volunteers noticed that several townspeople who relied on the six public-access computers needed machines at home. The library''s limited hours of operation-six hours per day, Tuesday through Saturday-didn''t mesh with busy work and school schedules.
Childs describes a young mom who used to commute from Castroville to San Jose State University for school every day. She spent her after-school hours and weekends at the library, typing on the computers, working on homework, her three-year-old daughter in tow.
"She had trouble getting her work finished during the library''s hours," Childs says. "She was someone who you look at and say, ''You need a computer in the house.''"
To solve this problem, staff members and patrons founded the Computer Project, intended to bridge the digital divide and give 35 Castroville families their own older-model computers. The first batch of computers were free-retired military computers, donated by the federal Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which was storing the computers in Seaside.
But to keep the project running, group members needed financial help-not a lot of money; just a few grand to buy some used hardware and software. So in 2000, they applied for and got a Neighborhood Grant of $3,500 from the Community Foundation for Monterey County-and off they went.
The Neighborhood Grants Program provides small amounts of money to grass-roots programs, generally in low-income areas of the county. It aims to strengthen poor communities and accomplish specific goals-in this case, giving computers to Castroville families.
Three years later, the group''s no longer doling out computers for homes. By now Castroville''s kids are computer pros and their parents are slowly catching on-and making their way into the library. The Computer Project''s grade-school kids and teens are now learning multimedia skills and video production.
In June, the group received a $3,700 grant from the Community Foundation to go towards the purchase of a new computer that will allow the group to create DVDs.
"The thing about technology is that if you can use it, there are so many people out there who need your skills," Childs says. "It''s really empowering."
If the swarm of kids and teens huddled around library computers on a summer afternoon are any indication, the project is working.
Silvestre Montejano and brother Jose trade off working on one. Nearby, younger kids, like seven-year-old Laura Acevedo-Cabrera, play computer games. Using a painting program, Acevedo-Cabrera, a tiny girl wearing long beads and a red dress, writes "I Love You, Mom" on a greeting card.
The Project''s core group members range from 10 to 18 years old. Some volunteer at the library, helping other patrons troubleshoot computer problems while fulfilling their community service requirement for graduation.
Last year some of the teens taped and edited a video depicting a youth point of view about the need for a new library in Castroville. (The Monterey County Planning Commission was slated to approve plans for the facility on July 10, past the Weekly''s deadline.) Other Computer Project group members presented the video to the County Board of Supervisors. Still others-like Silvestre Montejano-work on PowerPoint presentations for the library''s open houses, designed to bring more adults through the doors.
Several of the Computer Project kids have attended technology workshops at CSUMB. For two of them, this led to a four-week science and technology summer program at UC-Santa Cruz.
North County High School seniors Ana Luz Acevedo-Cabrera (Laura''s big sister) and Rodolfo Melgozo were among the 151 high schoolers state-wide chosen to attend the California State Summer School in Mathematics and Science (COSMOS), a four-week program for eighth to 12th graders. They will live on campus till July 20, take classes in astronomy, earth science, math, and ocean science, and go on related field trips.
"Ana Luz and Rodolfo were the only two from North County High who were chosen," Childs says. "You see, you''ve gotta go to the Castroville Library because it''s really a happening place."