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Students liking this upgrade

Microsoft chips in with software for a renovated and renamed De La Hoya Learning Center.

January 22, 2007|Adrian G. Uribarri | Times Staff Writer

After the third time he and his younger brother broke the family computer, Hazel Bernal got a stern command from his mother, tired of paying repair fees: Fix the computer yourself.

"I learned," he said, and since then he's been charging about $50 to fix computers for his teachers, friends and a school security guard.

On Saturday, the 17-year-old stared into a monitor as his fingers tapped a keyboard. It wasn't for his "side job," though. That morning, not a single computer needed repairs, and he and his peers worked with delight on brand-new machines.

They were using computers provided by Microsoft Corp., which today will announce its donation of $1 million in software for the newly named Oscar De La Hoya & Microsoft Learning Center in Los Angeles. The donation pairs with a renovation of the building off South Lorena Street, which will house a community computer lab running on Windows Vista, Microsoft's latest operating system.

In 2003, the Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School, which Bernal attends, started operating out of makeshift spaces around East Los Angeles. One of them, a modest building near De La Hoya's Resurrection Gym, served for several months as the principal's office. By its second year, Animo's enrollment had passed 200, and after students moved to another campus on Atlantic and Whittier boulevards -- and, later, its current site at downtown's World Trade Center -- the building fell into disrepair.

The interior walls got dirty. Leaks stained the ceiling. A back door was warped from break-ins.

The center's renovation comes more than three years after Animo was opened to youngsters, most from De La Hoya's old neighborhood. Just feet away from the center is where De La Hoya trained for the 1992 Summer Olympics, in which he won a gold medal in boxing.

"A lot of kids where I grew up, in East L.A., don't really have that drive," De La Hoya said. "It's always, 'I can't, I can't, I can't.' "

De La Hoya said the technology center, with its clean walls and newly carpeted floor, will help change that perception.

"It's going to be more of an inspiration," he said. "People are going to say, 'We are worth it.' "

For Microsoft, the donation fulfills more than philanthropic goals. Executives hope to spark an interest in technology where few households have computers.

"It really fits in with our core mission," said Sandi Thomas, general manager for Microsoft's Southern California district. "It helps ignite passions in young people that we believe might never get awakened."

Animo senior Jose Arrayales, 17, received an Oscar De La Hoya scholarship last year. He said the Microsoft grant will give Animo students a place to go after school. "If a person can go to a place that's a shelter, a sanctuary," he said, "it's a lot better than a place where you just wander around and get in trouble."

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adrian.uribarri@latimes.com

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