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Computer Lab Opens Window on a New World

State-of-the-art facility in Watts will enable kids to do homework and adults to job-hunt.

June 03, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to break the cycle of poverty, Los Angeles public housing officials dedicated a state-of-the-art computer lab in Watts on Thursday that will enable children to do their homework and adults to job-hunt.

"They say everyone in the future is going to need a computer because everything is going to be run by computer," said Edna Foster, 65, a 40-year resident of Nickerson Gardens, one of the city's 16 public housing tracts. "I've never used one, but I'm willing to try."

Kishara Buford, 10, said he hopes the 12-station learning hub at 1597 E. 114th St. will help him go to college. "The computers at school aren't as nice as these. I would rather use the ones here."

About 75 people attended the ceremony dedicating the center to community activist Nora D. King, who pushed hard for such a facility until her death last October at age 70.

"It's really about leveling the playing field," said Rudolf C. Montiel, executive director of the city Housing Authority. "The most important thing we're trying to do for our clients is move them toward a road of self-sufficiency."

The computers have fast Internet connections, office and educational software and extras such as microphones, scanners and headphones.

The center is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., to all residents of the area, not just those in Nickerson Gardens and Avalon Gardens, officials said.

Blanca Martinez, 42, was among those who came for a look. She said her three sons, ages 16 to 20, don't own computers but use them every chance they get. "This is important for the youths, so they can get jobs."

Young adults improve their learning skills, search for job opportunities and write up their resumes in one place, she added.

Montiel said money for the equipment, about $60,000, came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and space was found in an existing Nickerson Gardens building. It is the 12th computer center opened in recent years by the Housing Authority for the 23,000 residents in its developments.

Among the youngest computer users Thursday was Markise Johnson, 3, whose chin barely cleared the desk. But he worked the mouse like a pro as he chose hues for a firefighter character in a high-tech version of a coloring book.

Nearby, 12-year-old Bernard Armstrong tested his reflex and strategy skills with a game called Clue Finder. He looks forward to learning 10-finger typing and doing homework assignments. "See? Like this," he said as he downloaded a biography of George Washington with a few deft clicks.

Some limits apply to the computers, said Shanita Lamb, one of the center's three learning coaches. Pornography and gambling sites are blocked, and posted signs say children are not allowed to view a website featuring a highly popular rap artist that staff members say is too violent.

Azalee Porter, 74, is excited about being able to tap into information on subjects such as health, politics and social services.

"I think it's important, especially for seniors," she said. "Learning is lifelong."

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