Children use a computer and software provided by Technology for All (TFA photo)
Children use a computer and software provided by Technology for All (TFA photo)

Group proclaims: Let there be access

A Houston nonprofit partners with Baptist and other churches to provide computer and Internet techology to the unemployed and underserved.

By Daniel Wallace

After one week of a workforce training course where he learned how to build a resume and search for jobs online, a Houston man finally found what he couldn’t the past three years: a job.

That’s a common story for those who work with Technology For All, said Bracy Johnson, site director of Eastside University Village, an alternative learning center in Houston.

TFA's roots stem from the Methodist church, but it works with a variety of denominations and other faith-based groups. A primary partner is Houston's New Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church.

TFA provides computer and Internet technology to low-income and other underserved communities. That access is assumed in most of society, said Will Reed, TFA executive director.

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“One of the things many of us take for granted is our participation in the digital world,” Reed said. “I typically have three or four devices at my disposal -- smart phone, iPhone, iPad -- I  interact with the world through those tools.”

But there are many who don’t. For them, TFA partners with various educational institutions, churches, corporations and other nonprofit organizations to install computers and high-speed Internet access in those locations.

In 2010, TFA received a 3-year, $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and has used that funding to provide computers and training to local facilities. The grant has been matched with more than $5 million in commitments. Thanks to a $1.7 million grant from Microsoft Corp. in 2010, Microsoft Office now comes standard on all TFA-provided computers.

Through February, TFA had installed 1,678 computers in 94 public computer centers since its inception in 1997. Computers are installed primarily in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and rural communities in between those cities.

Board member Janice Anderson, who also serves on the ABPnews board, said TFA’s demographics have expanded significantly over the years, along with the services it provides through its partner sites.

The organization also seeks to empower communities through its workforce training course, which gives people the skills necessary to apply for jobs online.

Several major retail stores and restaurants now place a computer kiosk in the establishment for job seekers to use in filling out an application right there. The technology can be confusing for those not properly trained in how to use a computer.  

“People who don’t have access to these tools are moving into a whole new world when they try to apply for a job,” Reed said.

TFA also provides instruction on how basic Internet features work. Reed said grandparents who attend instructional courses are often stunned to see pictures of their grandchildren online. Foreign-born residents are amazed to discover they can read their hometown newspaper online.

Anderson said partnering with different churches, nonprofits and faith-based organizations allows for mutually beneficial relationships. By partnering with organizations who have established credibility in their communities, TFA benefits from the trust in those areas.

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"The access and the space in the physical site is part of the donation the particular entity brings to the table," Anderson said. "They provide the facility and credibility; we provide the service.”

The benefits go both ways, said Johnson with Houston’s Eastside University Village.

That organization received 56 desktop computers and 21 laptops, all loaded with GED training software, in 2011. Eastside Village was immediately able to serve a higher number of students and boosted test scores and retention rates, Johnson said.

“With the computer technology, it gets the student where they are, and the program adjusts itself according to where the student is performing,” he said.