Summer 2003

Regional Policy Action: CTCNet Chicago/Illinois Tech Day
by Debra Johnson

Illinois CTC Day group picture

In the wee hours of the morning of May 14, 2003, a group of CTCNet Chicago service providers and program participants boarded a coach bus headed for the Illinois State Capitol. Springfield bound, our mission was to educate state legislators on the importance of the work of CTCs in their communities and to highlight the impact on community residents. We were all on our way to participate in what has become known as Illinois Community Technology Day (Tech Day).

Tech Day grew out of an effort that began two years ago as an advocacy strategy for CTCNet Chicago to inform legislators of the work of community technology centers and to help influence legislation and direct resources for community technology centers in Chicago area communities.

As with most collaborative activities, Tech Day required intensive activity coordination among participating affiliates, which meant it was a "roll up our sleeves" production. In addition to CTCNet Chicago affiliates, our partners for the event included the Illinois Community Technology Consortium, Prairienet in Champaign and East St. Louis, Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, Northern Illinois Center for Adaptive Technology in Rockford, and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

We developed an informational package to leave with legislators that included information about CTCNet Chicago, talking points, our legislative agenda, and a DVD produced by IIT Digital Media Center that highlighted the work of various CTCNet Chicago affiliates. Team leaders were recruited from among our members. Their duty was to recruit Tech Day participants, set appointments with key legislators, and serve as a point person for their group of participants. Team leaders also participated in a special training on "how to talk to legislators" to prepare them for the day's activities. As a result, we more than tripled our previous years' number of tech day participants.

CTCNet Chicago members arrived in Springfield around 10 am, where we were joined by other Illinois CTCNet affiliates. This year's Tech Day began with a Community Technology Centers' Forum designed to introduce attendees to Illinois CTCs and to highlight the work we do. Legislators and state agency representatives were invited to attend. Two key members of the state's Computer Technology Committee, Reps. Constance Howard and Ruth Munson, were in attendance. Rep. Howard provided us with an official welcome and thanked us for our work on Illinois technology issues.

In addition to chairing the Computer Technology Committee, Rep. Howard also serves on the state's Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee. She extended an invitation for our group to join her in the house gallery after the forum, so that she could introduce us to her fellow representatives, since they were in session that afternoon.

Panelist from various organizations gave presentations on their work in the community and program participants from each group spoke about the impact the services they received from the CTC had on their lives. Participants included service providers and participants from:

  • Youth programs—Street Level Youth Media
  • Multilingual and assistive tech programs—Erie Neighborhood House, Northern Illinois Center for Adaptive Technology, Coalition of African, Asian, European, and Latino Immigrants of Illinois (CAAELII)
  • Connection and community linkages—Illinois Institute for Technology (IIT) Digital Media Center, IT Resource Center, PrairieNet
  • Workforce Development—Charles Hayes Family Investment Center, Lincoln Land Community College

The most riveting part of the forum was the compelling stories we heard from CTC users. Three examples of these testimonies:

Zonetta Watts, a single mother of five, stated that she didn't know much about computers applications until her participation in a program for public housing residents at the Charles A. Hayes Family Investment Center program. After completing the program, Zonetta decided to go back to school to obtain her associates degree in computer engineering. She says, "The Hayes center program has helped me gain skills to obtain my A+, MCP, Network+ certifications." Now four years later not only is she an instructor at the Center's technology learning at the center, but she recently purchased her own home.

Elva Serna completed a program at Erie Neighborhood House that led to her obtaining a job as a supervisor for a food service company. She soon began utilizing the computer skills she received from her Erie House training to translate company materials from English to Spanish information. 90% of the company's workers spoke Spanish. Soon afterwards, she began volunteering with Erie House and then teaching classes. Her sister was one of her first students. Elva stated, "I love working for the community. My participation in the Erie House program changed my life." Elva currently works as Erie's Technology Project Coordinator. 

Christopher, a high school senior said, "Working with StreetLevel Youth Media gave an idea of what I want to do when I grow up."

All of the CTC users' stories were awesome! They really brought home the importance of our work and reinforced our value to the communities that we serve.

The forum was followed by a lunch meeting with various state agency representatives, who had been invited to talk to us about their work and how these agencies support the work of Illinois CTCs. After lunch we were escorted to the gallery of the IL House of Representatives, where we were formally introduced to the House by Rep. Connie Howard and received a warm welcome from the Illinois legislators.

We left the House with legislative packets in tow, off for team meetings with individual legislators. Each team met with the senator and representative in their district to share their stories and invite them to visit their center. After our legislative meetings, we held a debriefing session. Everyone committed to participating in next year's event and recruiting even more people to participate. We also made connections with other representatives to help coordinate next years' Tech Day.

After a long day, it was time to head home. It was agreed that this year's Illinios Community Technology Day was an exciting and educational event for all.

Debra Walker Johnson is the first full-time director of CTCNet Chicago.

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