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Computer Training, Now in the Heart of East Baltimore

Clarence Tucker, left, operations manager of the East Baltimore Technical Resource Center, with Tom Morford, Urban Health Institute.
By name alone, the Urban Health Institute would seem dedicated to improving the physical condition of inner-city residents. But as UHI's newest project suggests, health means more than just physical well- being-it also means jobs.

This month, with some 2,000 donated computers and 9,000 square feet on East Preston Street in the old Diamond Press Building, UHI will launch the East Baltimore Technical Resource Center, a facility designed to provide easy, cost-free access to computer training and direct job placement.

The center offers something for just about everyone. The focus will be on teaching people how to fix and refurbish used computers. But participants can learn other skills as well, from basic computer software, such as Microsoft Word and Excel-necessary tools for practically every job in today's market-to an in-depth understanding of the computer as an operating system. Additionally, the center will work to distribute computers throughout East Baltimore-in churches, community centers and even homes.

Working with various partners, especially Senior Cyber Net, a program that introduces older people to computers, UHI has already opened nearly a dozen computer-learning labs in the area. "At first, there wasn't much interest," says Tom Morford, UHI deputy director. "Now I get phone calls every week, particularly from churches, to get these labs installed."

On a rudimentary level, the labs will create more opportunities for people in East Baltimore. "We want to build infrastructure, so that after people get training at the tech center, they don't need to leave the neighborhood to find work," says operations manager Clarence Tucker. "And people will be proud to live in a community that has technology."

Tucker should know. He's spent the last 10 years with the Phoenix Project, a program based on Baltimore's west side that has opened after-school computer sites all over the city. "On the east side, the project will work well," Tucker predicts. "There's a need for it."

Funded by grants, the center also has benefitted from Hopkins' support. Hopkins is donating most of the used computers, and its MBA students created the feasibility study on which this project was founded. Space in the Diamond Press building, former site of a printing press, was donated by the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC).

UHI has brought together several organizations to run the project, including Senior Cyber Net, the Phoenix Project and Space Hope, an instruction program for inner-city youths. Each has extensive experience in introducing computer technology to under-served communities. "These organizations know what they are doing, and we have benefitted greatly from their support," says Morford. "This is not going to be a Johns Hopkins operation. Our major role is as a catalyst. Eventually, hopefully within months, we will turn this over to the community."

Key community associations such as HEBCAC, Madison East End, Rose Street, the Gate and the Maryland Center for Arts and Technology are also partners in the project and are represented on the center's steering committee. As committee member Elroy Christopher says, the program "shows that someone really cares about us here in East Baltimore. We've been waiting for something to happen. It's about time."

-Meghan Fox



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