Computer Class In Seaside
Seaside program bridges digital divide.
Thursday, March 6, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Screen Saviour: Towana Caldwell hopes her newfound computer literacy will help her work for her community.
Towana Caldwell was once afraid of computers. It wasn''t because she''d had a bad Apple or a hard time with Microsoft. Hers was fear based on the unknown. The machines were a mystery. The amount she knew about them before November 2002 was, as she says, "Nada."
Caldwell lives at Del Monte Manor, subsidized housing funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A week ago she officially completed a twice-weekly beginners course on computer basics offered by the Neighborhood Networks Computer Center in the Del Monte Manor community room. Part of the national Neighborhood Networks program, the local courses are free to participants and have been in place since June 2002.
"I learned how to do email and get on the Internet. I learned how to set up my page, write a letter," she says. "I''m having a really good time communicating through email."
She says she''s also helping her son, a fifth-grader. He wants to be a biologist and through the Internet they found a helpful scientist in Australia who says she''ll send him a gecko lizard skin. Caldwell likes the computer so much now she''s signed up for the intermediate class, which begins in two weeks. Now armed with computer knowledge she wants to take classes in public administration at Monterey Peninsula College.
"I was scared of them," she says. "I didn''t think I could operate it. Now I enjoy it."
The computer center is run by John Nash. Nash is a gentle giant of a man who grew up picking tobacco in North Carolina. Last week he handed out diplomas to the 2003 graduates. He wore a black T-shirt with the message "Bridging the Digital Divide" across the back. Forty-eight people got certificates.
At the ceremony, graduates and friends gathered to applaud their instructors and one another. Before they settled down to eat, Rev. Bob A. Waldrup from the New Hope Baptist Church led a prayer over the food, saying "We realize it was you [Jesus] and not ourselves who called us here."
The program Nash runs is free and it''s so popular, one adult beginner and three adult intermediate sessions for spring are already full with 15 students in each. Three sessions for children still have openings and are expected to fill up fast.
The fruits of the just-finished session are spread out on a table for all to see. To graduate, each student had to complete a cookbook of some kind, using information downloaded from the Internet. The books feature color photo prints and artistic computer graphics. Among them are Mary Forbes'' Best Chicken Dinner with four different recipes for preparing chicken, Geraldine Griffin''s Cooking Made Easy and Eating in Style by O.G. Bull, which features recipes for gumbo, baked trout and macaroni and cheese.
Leatrice A. Murray made Look While you Cook: A Visual Instruction Guide. She''s lived in Seaside since 1961 and the only other time she touched a computer was once at her daughter''s house when she punched the enter button to send an email to friends in Florida.
In the process of creating her cookbook she nearly vaporized week''s worth or work with a similar move. She was working on the book and her 12 recipes disappeared from the screen. Now, like the rest of the computer-savvy world, she realizes it was one of those inadvertent sleights of hand that pushes text off the page.
"I thought I''d lost it," she says. "I hit enter and it backed up all the way to page 15."
Murray hopes to be able to use a computer to help her sell Mary Kay cosmetics.
"It''s exciting," she says. "I''m looking forward to purchasing one of my own so I can communicate with a computer. We can order online, do tax reports and keep records of all our customers on it."
The program is funded jointly through HUD and the Seaside Civic League. It costs about $5,000 per month to run.
At the ceremony, Larry Hawkins, president of the Civic League, told the graduates to go out and spread the word.
"What I want to see is a group like this multiplied by a hundred. Not all at once, but I want you to go out and do missionary work," Hawkins told the grads. "Get the kids through here."
The computers came from Nash''s son, Cedric, a Seaside native who runs a computer consulting business in Oakland. He took his company''s old machines and donated them to the center. The center has 14 computer stations, each a PC running Windows 98 and Office 2000. They are set up in a network that one instructor compared to the arrangement and computing power you''d find in a small business.
Like any operation run on a tight budget, the computer center can use all the help it can get.
"We can always use money, if anyone is feeling liberal," Nash says.
After their first foray bridging the digital divide, the students are eager to go further. At the end of the ceremony one of the students who is signed up for the intermediate session beginning in March asked assistant director Carl Laing, "Are we having class tonight?"
"No," Laing says. "We just graduated!"