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Program offers skills, computers

By Steve Bauer"” Brian Bell is finding new homes for computers through a program at Parkland Community College.

The entry-level class for computer maintenance is also helping some people to bridge what is called the "digital divide."

 "Students take the class, then take a machine home," said Bell, 39.

 His class is a way to get new skills, Bell said.

 "There are 2,000 people a day going through the doors at the state unemployment office," Bell said. "Most are (age) 40-plus and had been working, paying taxes, but became unemployed."

Most of the students have no computers at home, let alone computer skills, Bell said.

"They need a job; they need a resume, but there is no such thing, these days, as a paper resume, not even at McDonald's."

They need to be able to create and have a digital resume; they need to be able to create a document and send and receive e-mail. They need to be able to do word processing, he said.

"They can't get started without this," Bell said. 

Richard Smith of Champaign, laid off at Humko, took Brian's computer class.

"I could not even turn on a computer," he said. "I knew what a mouse is, but didn't know how to use it."

Smith learned how to create a resume, how to go to job search websites and how to fill out an online application. So far, Smith has not had any job offers, but he now feels more confident with some basic computer skills.

"It opened my eyes to the 21st century," Smith said. "I never knew what it could do. It's a whole new world for me."

Esther Hood, 52, said she became unemployed a few days before Christmas in 2008. She saw an advertisement in The News-Gazette promoting computer classes at the state unemployment office.

"I was going there anyway and I thought it would be a good opportunity," Hood said.

She said she had only very basic computer skills from her former job and says most employers are looking for someone with more advanced abilities now.

"It just makes you more marketable," Hood said.

Hood is studying business management at Parkland, she said.

The Rev. Zernial Bogan, president of the Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce, who has been active in organizing for the local consortium developing a high-speed fiber optic network through a federal grant, said Bell's classes at Parkland are equally beneficial for young people just entering the job market and senior citizens who have not had previous computer training.

Bell's class gives young people an edge they did not have by teaching them to write resumes, do job searches and submit applications, all online, Bogan said. 

For a lot of seniors, the class also "teaches them what they need to know, so they can do their finances and find resources online," he said.

Bogan is also part of a Community Computer Committee that was established locally to use whatever resources are available for residents to get help with technology.

Maria Mobasseri, chairwoman of the Parkland Computer Science and Information Technology Department, said the program has been working to provide computer training since 2001. 

The computer refurbishment started as a pilot program incentive to attract participants to a workshop, she said.

"It then grew into a bigger and better program as we started receiving more donations and more requests from the community," Mobasseri said.

By Steve Bauer/The News-Gazette

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