Winter 2004-2005

The Community Technology Empowerment Project: Technology Literacy in the Twin Cities
by Jennifer Drewyor
CTEP logo

Community Technology Centers have teamed up with 17 AmeriCorps members in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to increase technology literacy within the new Community Technology Empowerment Program (CTEP). CTEP is the result of five years of work by the regional consortia of CTCs in the Twin Cities area, C-CAN, to help CTCs increase technology access and programming for new immigrants and low-income residents.

The Twin Cities area has seen an increased need for technology access and literacy programs due to an influx of new immigrant residents. The 2000 Census showed, for instance, an increase of 166% of the Latino population and of 108% of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. Many new immigrants and minorities live in federally designated “Empowerment Zones,” under HUD's community revitalization program. These areas of the cities have the largest number of minorities and non-English speakers, and the highest percentage of poverty and unemployment in the state.

New immigrants often need immediate access to basic resources such as health care, housing, social services, and human rights and educational resources , but run into barriers to finding and using these community services due to economic, linguistic, and cultural differences. In addition, as many neighborhood organizations and CTCs are under-funded, there are significant gaps in developing sustainable technology programs in “Empowerment Zone” communities to provide training and improve immigrant economic conditions. CTEP AmeriCorps members are helping CTCs support these new residents using technology tools that already exist in many communities.

AmeriCorps CTEP members begin by broadly and thoroughly assessing and evaluating their CTC's technological capacity. Members have spent their first few months gathering information about their host site CTC and surrounding communities and will now be helping their sites develop strategic plans to improve CTC outreach programs. Members also support staff in serving neighborhood youth and adults through new programming, including multimedia projects. In addition, members promote understanding of existing technology tools and resources, and train and manage CTC volunteers, connecting them to service activities in their communities.

CTEP AmeriCorps Members
CTEP AmeriCorps Members

“CTEP AmeriCorps members will be doing various capacity building projects at their host sites. One major focus for members is increasing volunteerism because many non-profits rely on volunteers to deliver services to communities. Another is the assessment on the technology capacity of the organization. This report doesn't focus on technology, as much as how the organization increases technology literacy for community members. It will allow an organization to make informed decisions about its technology facilities and education,” said CTEP director Jeff Streier.

Members receive ongoing training and professional development that will ultimately allow them to train others. Some will develop culturally and linguistically appropriate websites and public service announcements in Hmong (for a special minority group from Laos), Vietnamese, Khmer (for native Cambodian speakers), Spanish, and Somali focused on health care, housing, social services, and human rights and educational resources. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights member is working on recruitment of translators for MDHR's website to be translated into Hmong, Spanish, and Somali and to increase access to this information. Members will focus on developing media like this to help immigrants and low-income residents tune in to community resources.

“Several of our members will be able to infuse the first language of immigrants with technology training. One example is a computer basics class in Hmong or Somali. Or how about the other way around—ESL classes that use technology to learn English? There will certainly be technology learning going on there,” Streier said.

Having an AmeriCorps member on-site at a CTC frees up staff from what they may not have the time or skills to implement alone. Since each organization is unique, there will be collaboration for resource use and development. Members will learn to teach so that they can bring back sustainability to their specific site and its community, as well as the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Unanticipated collaborations seem a given for the members, as they took time at their first orientation on October 19, 2004 to talk about how they could share their skills and interests.

CTEP AmeriCorps member Mustafa Ali was enthusiastic about sharing his skills. “I know Somali. I can help you translate,” he said to fellow member Linda Shoemaker. “Human rights information is needed in the Somali language.”

CTEP is administered by ServeMinnesota-the Minnesota Commission on National and Community Service.

Jennifer Drewyor served as a CTC VISTA supporting CTEP members in the Twin Cities. For more information about the project, contact C-CAN Director Catherine Settanni.

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