Si, se puede: Program helps Latinos use the Internet

By From page A3 | August 17, 2012


COMMUNITY TRAINER Lynn Austin, standing, helps Angelica De Santiago, center seated, and Molly Cortes, left, develop computer skills during a training class at California Connects in Placerville on Aug. 13. The program helps low-income Spanish speakers learn to use the Internet, e-mail and more. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

Most of us take the Googling, YouTubing, Facebooking, and e-mailing world of the Internet for granted.

But for some, these words represent a mysterious and somewhat intimidating place to which they’ve never been introduced.

Stepping in to bridge the gap is a program called California Connects, which is designed to help more Latinos get on the information highway.

Funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, it is administered by the Foundation for California Community Colleges and the Great Valley Center in Modesto.

Begun back in July of 2010, the statewide initiative currently operates in 12 counties. According to Lynn Austin, who is the community trainer in El Dorado County for California Connects, the program is specifically aimed at low-income Spanish-speaking adults, many of whom only have a sixth grade education.

Austin said the program aims to educate about “61,000 new broadband users (statewide) but that target is probably not realistic.”

Currently he is teaching nine trainees but said he’s just getting started and plans to offer more classes. Most of those enrolled are women with the oldest person in the class being 60. He says women outnumber men in the class “because women are more comfortable in an office setting and in using a keyboard.”

At present classes are being held at the El Dorado County One Stop career center and the library in Placerville during hours when the facilities are closed and their computers are not being used.

Monday night at One Stop, six enrollees were intently setting up e-mail accounts and taking detailed notes as Austin circulated, giving instructions in Spanish. Maria Cortes said she signed up for the class “because everything is done on computers.” For her the main purpose is learning how to pay her bills online and looking for local work.

For Daisy Rivers, the class has taught her how to use Skype to talk to her son in Honduras while Molly Cortes uses it to e-mail her son in San Bernardino. Angelica De Santiago and Reme Garcia both said they have computers at home, but only their children know how to use them. Garcia said that becoming more familiar with computers will “help me get a different job.” Asked what is the most challenging part of the class, most said it is setting up and operating an e-mail account.

Austin said the classes meet twice a week for two hours for a total of 12 hours of instruction. At the end of the class, if completed, the person receives a certificate. He said the two most important things people need to learn in the class are how to use the Internet search function and how to use e-mail. “These are the absolutes to graduate,” he said.

Austin said that when people first come to the class, he asks them why they enrolled. “For some it’s to help them find jobs and send resumes. For others, it’s learning how to send e-mail or being able to communicate with their children’s teachers. Others want to know how to pay bills online or how to communicate at little or no cost,” he said.

In addition to the basic instruction, Austin shows them how to find free virus protection software and programs to protect their children from online predators. He also gives them computer specs so if they buy a computer, they get what they need rather than what someone is trying to sell them.

So far, Austin said the hardest part of the program is “getting the word out.” During the start phase of the program, he contacted all the social service organizations in the county and even attended mass at St. Patrick’s church a couple of times so he could sign up people.

Austin said one of the biggest challenges for enrollees is learning to use the search function. Most are not used to using a keyboard to spell out words so the first thing he teaches them is how to access the online Spanish dictionary so they can key in words and do a search.

Another hurdle is teaching people to be more confident in using the computer. “Latinos have this dependency mentality,” he said. So Austin forces them to learn to search by making them do it rather than relying on him. “The old way is asking a teacher or a friend,” he said. “I try to wean them away from that mentality although Latinos are not the only ones with that mentality.”

Austin said he plans to expand the program to other county libraries and sees South Lake Tahoe as fertile ground for doing so. He also plans to offer classes at the schools to help promote education.

That goal has already worked for one classroom attendee. Juan Mora said he wanted to go to college but didn’t because “everything requires the use of computers.” Since taking the class he has enrolled in the Los Rios Community College.

People who want to learn more about the program, or who how to sign up for it, can do so by calling Lynn Austin at 562-852-8409 or e-mailing him at [email protected]

“Once you use the Internet, your life will never be the same,” Austin said.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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