Next time you’re tempted to curse your computer, stop and imagine what life would be like without it.
Until recently, a number of families in downtown Meriden didn’t have to imagine. A computer just wasn’t within their means. But thanks to a program offered through (CfAL), a New Haven-based nonprofit company, those families not only received free refurbished computers, but also training, technical support and discounted internet services to go with them.
Dolores Ramirez and Juan Castro heard about the program a year ago through a flier sent home from with their children. They signed up for the first of what have been eight computer training classes offered in both English and Spanish.
“The class taught all the basic computer skills,” Ramirez told Patch. Participants learned everything from how to turn on the computer to how to avoid viruses. They also became acquainted with the essentials of programs like Word and Excel.
“Now I’m able to do some work on the computer,” Ramirez says.
She has started marketing and selling Amway products from her home, a means of contributing to her household income that wouldn’t have been possible without a computer.
Castro uses the computer mainly to keep in touch with family back in Mexico.
“They never knew about Facebook before,” relates Migdalia Alicea, an outreach worker for the . All of the 49 families who have taken part in the program are part of the Family Zone, a network of services for low-income families in a distressed area of downtown.
Aside from their three-month-old baby, the couple’s four other children, the oldest of whom is 10, all log their share of time on the family's new computer.
“Even the four-year-old uses it,” Ramirez shares. “They like to play games.”
The older children also use the computer for their homework, she says.
That’s one of the main reasons the program came about, according to Curtis Hill, Executive Director of CfAL. His organization wanted to “close the digital divide” between families who have access to the internet and those who don’t--and whose children find themselves at an academic disadvantage because of it.
“Our objectives of bringing technology access into the home are to increase parents’ involvement in their children’s education and extend learning beyond the classroom,” Hill explains.
Daniel Fuentes and Orquidea Mercado, who live down the street from Ramirez and Castro and graduated from the first computer class with them, say homework is a main use for their household computer, too. The couple has three children, in grades 1, 5 and 9.
But when asked who uses the computer most, the whole family immediately points to Dad, Daniel. He sheepishly admits they’re right. He uses the computer for everything from paying bills to Christmas shopping to keeping in touch with people.
Alicea says Zone families can also use their new computers to stay connected to the community. The this year launched a that encourages people to report crime in the neighborhood via the internet. Families in the Zone will soon be trained in how to use the website to keep their neighborhoods safer, Alicea says.
To qualify for a free computer, a family must have a child in the Meriden school system, must not have a working computer in the home, must reside in the Meriden Family Zone, and must complete the training class. The next class is scheduled for September at either Israel Putnam or Casimir Pulaski School, Hill says.
The for its contributions to the education of Meriden children by awarding its Community Support Award to the program.
“I felt funny that my organization got the Community Support Award,” Hill says. “It really was a combination of many organizations.”
The refurbished desktop computers were donated by Connecticut Light and Power, Yankee Gas, and their parent company, Northeast Utilities. Training was provided by CfAL, and discounted internet is being offered through Cox Communications for less than $10 per month for a year.
“We’re all working together for the good of our schoolchildren,” Hill says.