Salem collecting used computers for civic project
Apr 19, 2012 (The Roanoke Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Circumstances seem to stack up against the homeless in ways that compound their problems and obscure the path out of their predicament.
But a cooperative effort between the city of Salem, Comcast, ITT Technical Institute and the Roanoke Valley Interfaith Hospitality Network is removing one of those obstacles: access to Internet-linked computers.
Salem will be holding the latest in its collections of used computers and accessories from 4 to 7 p.m. today at Salem City Hall, 114 N. Broad St. An earlier collection helped build the IHN computer lab, though the computers collected today will be refurbished and distributed to families of students in Salem City Schools who qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program.
The government, corporate and nonprofit partners teamed up to establish a computer lab in IHN's day center on Clay Street in Salem. IHN is a nonprofit that works with 26 churches to provide temporary housing for homeless families in the valley until they can get back on their feet.
But recovery can be hard without access to a computer for filling out job and school applications, or looking for apartments.
The four-computer lab at IHN, which opened a few weeks ago, has Internet access provided by Comcast, and Microsoft office software for creating resumes and writing cover letters.
"Every day it's getting used," said Aaron Dowdy, manager of guest services. While IHN clients can use computers and Internet service at public libraries, time is often limited on the machines, and they may not be available when the clients need them, Dowdy said. But the IHN lab "pretty much gives them constant access."
Teenagers from IHN families use the computers for homework, as does one mother who is a student at Virginia Western Community College, Dowdy said. A father in one family is taking online English as a Second Language classes.
The lab project was an outgrowth of a two-year effort by the city of Salem to provide free computers to needy families. The city began collecting donated computers to be refurbished, cleaned of any data and made ready for use by families who signed up for them and said they had a financial need.
"We were taking them at their word. We didn't want people to feel like there were a lot of hurdles to get over," said Melinda Payne, Salem's director of planning and economic development and organizer of the effort.
Computer shops Computer Works and Valley Computers were initially involved, but ITT Tech soon stepped up and offered the services of its students to get the donated computers in shape.
So far about 100 families have received the computers.
ITT Tech director Ron Charpia said he liked the project for giving his students the chance to serve their community, get some valid work experience, and also keep some electronic waste out of the landfill.
Students don't get credit for the work, but they do get resume fodder. And, Charpia said, "From my perspective, it's looked upon favorably."
Seeking to get more involved in the community, ITT Tech sought more projects, and worked with the city to come up with the computer lab at IHN. ITT Tech has also provided computers for two Baptist Community Centers in Roanoke, Charpia said.
With the IHN lab up and running, Salem is returning to its initial focus of providing computers for needy families. This time, recipients will be students in Salem schools who participate in the federal free and reduced price lunch program, Payne said.
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