The People’s Resource Center is the inspiration for, and a founding partner agency of, Partners Bridging the Digital Divide.
“Since 1975, People Resource Center has been bringing neighbors together to respond to hunger and poverty in DuPage County. With a team of over 2,000 volunteers, we offer nutritious food and other basic necessities like clothes and rent assistance for people facing tough times. And we connect people with resources–education and tutoring, jobs, technology, art, a caring community–to create a future of hope and opportunity for all.”
In the last ten years, the People’s Resource Center (PRC) has given away over 11,500 donated computers and provided free training on using those computers to clients in DuPage County, Illinois.
To address the digital divide, the PRC offers classes including:
- Introduction to Computers – teaches the basics of using a computer from using a mouse to writing email
- Windows Fundamentals – including security issues, how information is stored on the computer, and becoming comfortable using a computer
- Microsoft Office Products (focused classes in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint)
- Microsoft Office Certification- needed in many office jobs
- Open Training, providing one-on-one assistance to help answer specific questions
People taking the training range in age from 18 – 88. Many do not speak English as their first language, and their backgrounds range from not having completed high school to people with advanced degrees but no computer skills.
Clients are welcomed and given a skills assessment to determine what class would best suit their initial needs. Classes run for seven weeks and are taught by volunteer instructors. Each class includes hands-on exercises to practice new skills. Class size is small to allow for individual attention from the instructor and co-instructor. After starting classes, students are eligible to receive a free refurbished computer.
Computers are donated by local businesses, schools, and individuals. Each donated computer is loaded with a standard image which includes Microsoft Office, typing tutorials, mouse tutorials, and anti-virus software. This refurbishing is done by a core of expert volunteers including retired engineers who do this full-time using Microsoft Authorized Refurbishing (MAR) guidelines. Refurbishers also repair computers for PRC clients.
What started in 2003 as the Dr. Fix-it program, repairing a few computers a month, has turned into three full-time repair volunteers with part-time helpers who repaired eighteen hundred computers in fiscal 2014. Forty-five percent of the repairs are for computers that are owned by clients, but weren’t given to them by PRC. Once clients become more computer literate, they may upgrade their computer from other sources. The PRC volunteers continue to help with repairs, classes and support.
Over the last decade, the teaching curriculum has evolved as technology and the needs of the clients change. The first classes were taught at Marion Park, a residential housing community, based on the desire of some of the residents who lived there to learn about computers. Frank Goetz taught classes there for one year keeping ahead of the students week by week and teaching what he thought would be useful. Today classes are taught at ten locations within DuPage County and class content is revised and strengthened regularly by the instructors. (Click here for background on the PRC Computer Literary Training provided by Theodore Lind.)
An initiative in 2015 will provide focused sessions on technology topics of interest to PRC clients in addition to the existing curriculum.
Each quarter between teaching sessions, the volunteers gather to eat pizza and discuss changes and opportunities for improvement.
Students are often very appreciative about both receiving the computers and the training as evidenced by the following quotes from feedback after taking a class at PRC:
- “This class was informative as well as fun.”
- “The class helped me navigate through the Internet and emails.”
- “I enjoyed the class and hope to enroll at the next level.”
- “Our instructor was very knowledgeable and helpful. We would like him to be our teacher in the future class.”
- “Able to get me to understand the important things I never thought I would.”
- “Thank you so much for all your effort to educate people who cannot afford college fees and can improve their computer skill like me.”
- “Did not know how little I knew until I started the class.”
- “I’m excited to take the next class.”
- “I’m looking forward to taking excel to increase employment skills.”
This article was written by Katherine Lato.