By Nicolas Galarza
A friend of mine, aware of my interest on the digital divide and the access of vulnerable population to internet, shared with my this fantastic story. What started as a center to promote technology for adults and to increase their level of employability turned in to an innovation hub for teenagers that just built a touch screen computer with their bare-hands.
The story goes as follows. Located in Pittsburg, the Hilltop Computer Center, funded by a grant of the federal government, provided basic services of computers, wi-fi and printing. Its original activities included workshops on the Microsoft office suite for adults.
After 6 months, the project manager realized that in spite of the original intention of the center, the audience was of a different demography. Most of the users of the center were youngsters within the ages of 8 and 24. This demanded a change of focus on the activities promoted by the center to foster the potential of the audience.
The manager pursued this change and obtained results that should be an eye-opener to big corporations into refocusing its efforts of open wi-fi in affluent areas. (see my related post here). Providing internet access to vulnerable populations proved to have great impact on the community.
According to a Pittsburg based online portal, who interviewed Nic Jaramillo, the manager of the center. With a grant from the private sector, old computer parts and will and dedication of a group of people, a team built a touch computer kiosk. Something that Jaramillo calls an impressive piece of Technology. Who would dare to disagree?
The kiosk is now an attraction itself and the creators want to turn it into a iterating attraction that should tour around the city as a testimony of the potential and success of a place like HCC.
This is an irrefutable testimony of how democratizing access to technology can be a great asset, not just for capacity building but as a milestone for revitalizing a community. The center just turned into a symbol of the neighborhood and is attracting the eyes of outsiders that want to figure out how a modest computer center turned into a science center for teenagers.
The potential of tech to give opportunities to people and to improve the environments just proves itself every time it has a chance. This just makes me wonder, what would this kids be doing if they hadn’t found a visionary manager of a modest computer center? Would I, a Colombian living in New York City, or my friend Matt from Arkansas, have heard of a neighborhood in Pittsburg? The odds are pretty low.
This should serve as a testimony of how vulnerable populations benefit from technology. Kuddos to Hilltop.