Most first time computer users have an overwhelming fear of erasing important data if they click or type something incorrectly. But on July 27, 18 Latino parents and grandparents erased the fear itself by celebrating their graduation from a 10 week, 40 hour computer training course as part of Community Union’s One Million New Internet Users (NIU) project.
The adult students shared computers at the Romana Banuelos Resource Center in the Pan American Bank on East 1st Street in East Los Angeles, as they navigated programs like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and learned how to access nine different websites including Facebook and Gmail for the first time. Their work culminated in a group portfolio of each student’s final PowerPoint presentation—a segment was displayed at the graduation ceremony held at the center.
“I feel so proud, not because of vanity, but because I now realize that you’re never too old to learn,” Javier Ramos said in Spanish while clutching his graduation certificate.
All of the graduates had little to no understanding of how to use a computer prior to the classes, even though they had owned one for years. Norma Tejeda’s frustration at not being able to access online games for her young grandsons was what motivated her to take the classes.
“It’s a fear that you’re not going to be able to learn, that you’re somehow limited, but that’s not the case,” Tejeda said in Spanish.
Founded by Larry Ortega 20 years ago, the One Million NIU project is a direct response to a study that revealed over 3 million potential Internet users in California have yet to explore the World Wide Web. Run by a co-founded coalition of various ethnic based non-profits called Community Union, the One Million NIU project aims to get one third of those potential users online through free computer training programs funded by a grant from the Rural and Urban Regional Broadband Consortia Grant Account of the California Advanced Services Fund.
According to Ortega, the project’s success is due to its specialized programming based on a particular ethnic community in a particular region.
“Adult education and community colleges have been offering computer training forever, for free almost, so why haven’t our communities flocked there?” Ortega said. “The reason is because there is a lack of cultural, linguistic understanding in terms of how to roll this out and create value.”
In East Los Angeles, the program is directed at Latino parents and grandparents and capitalizes on their trust in the school system by hosting the classes in local schools’ computer labs after school hours, Ortega explained.
Evelyn Mataromos, an instructor at the Romana Banuelos Resource Center that doubles as the project’s East L.A. headquarters, said more parents can to take advantage of the program since they already travel to the schools to pick up their children.
Using local schools also ties in well with the program’s goal to decrease the growing drop-out rates among Latino and African-American youth by educating their parents and grandparents on the academic and financial opportunities available online, Neri Rivas, vice president of operations told EGP.
“We created this program so that we get parents more involved … you’d be surprised, parents don’t know what are the A through G requirements, don’t know what are the universities or colleges in their areas, so this program opens up those eyes,” Rivas said.
Participants also learned about Internet safety and how to better protect their children and grandchildren from predators and cyber-bullies, something graduate Edith Chevez said is very important in this day and age.
More mothers and grandmothers take advantage of the classes than males in the community, in part because of social norms that make females more attune with their children’s lives and education, according to Rivas and Ortega.
“Mothers, who are the majority of people that attend, have gotten the value part of it, whereas I think that the males in our community don’t have that wrapped around their head so it’s a matter of progression in showing them what they can be able to do better if they had access to this,” Ortega told EGP.
But Ramos said it’s something more.
“We’re afraid of being humiliated or criticized because we don’t know what we’re doing,” said the recent graduate.
Men like Ramos, who not only take the classes but also advocate the program to their co-workers and friends, are helping bring in more males to the eye-opening experience, Ortega said.
The 18 graduates’ journey into the online world continues with a post-course program in which they can learn more about navigating the Internet, and how they can play the role of community advocate by emailing representatives on current issues affecting their community, Rivas said.
Ortega announced that starting this fall the One Million NIU project will begin offering cable Internet service for less than $10 a month and monthly computer rentals for about the same price as part of their on-going commitment to their students.
For most of the graduates, the classes offered them more effective ways to communicate with distant family members online, to protect their loved ones and help them with their education, and to gain digital independence.
Before starting the program, Chevez, an Avon salesperson, constantly relied on her daughter to place her online orders. Now she manages her business all on her own.
“Now I am very independent.” Chevez said. “I have my privacy because now I don’t have to tell anyone what sites I visit or what I browse.”
Parents and grandparents interested in fall classes in their area should call (323) 526-7331 or visit onemillionniu.org.