Center trains public housing residents to connect with computers

New technology training is helping to bridge the digital divide for public housing residents.

Six weeks into a program at a Chicago Housing Authority center in Bronzeville, over 120 residents have come and started learning new skills, with about half of them returning for a second visit.

Giving residents access to technology is essential to helping them create a better life for themselves, says Greg Sutton, one of the founders of TEC Services, the company in charge of the training.

"The better you can use technology, the better and the more opportunities you have," says Sutton.

The training they offer is unique, Sutton says, because of its accessibility and its potential to offer job opportunities to tenants. Instead of going to a weekly class at a set time and place, CHA residents can go to the lab any time its open and start learning or continue where they left off.

Residents can take two main courses that will give them the skills they would need in any work place. But beyond the basic training, they can also take advanced training that would give them certification for jobs in the technology field, like web designer or help desk technician.

"We don't stop at the training," says Sutton. "We work on developing career plans."

CHA staff members are excited about the new training opportunities for residents, many of whom they say don't have access to computers on a daily basis.

"Many of our families do not own computers," says Kristin Hamer, director of community relations for CHA. "There's a lot of adults have been underemployed, who lack an education or job opportunities and have not been forced to use a computer."

Lack of access to technology is common among low-income people, says Karen Mossberger, associate professor of public administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"Public housing residents are among those who are least likely to use technology," says Mossberger.

She says even when people are able to use the Internet at a local library, they often aren't able to gain the skills they need to get information. This lack of skills means people aren't able to get jobs that involve technology, and earn less money as a result.

A person who uses the Internet at work makes $118 more per week than someone who doesn't, says Mossberger.

And even people who didn't have much formal education, but could use technology, saw a bump in the amount of money they made. Those with just a high school education or less make about $111 more a week.

And Mossberger says it's not just a work skill - people who use technology are likely to be more politically active, more involved in their community and have greater access to information about their health.

"Really to be included in our society means being able to go online and find information online," she says.

Residents seem excited about being included in the digital age, says Sutton.  He says he hopes to get a lot of residents involved.

"We've seen a wonderful response so far," says Sutton. "We've had seniors come in. We've had mothers and even children come," he says.

All CHA residents can access the new training opportunities. The technology center at the Charles Hayes Family Investment Center, 4859 S. Wabash Ave., is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The center will start operating five days a week sometime in March. 

The program is funded through a $999,593 Residents Opportunities and Self Sufficiency (Ross) grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Staff Writer Megan Cottrell covers public housing for the Daily News. She can be reached at 773-362-5002, ext. 12.