Community Technology Centers can be a catalyst for change by providing public access to computers and the internet, as well as offering educational training in a range of technological skills. Community Technology Centers can often help enhance residents’ self-sufficiency, educational levels and ability to participate in community affairs, which in turn helps to enhance a communities workforce and public forums.
The Greater New Bedford Community Computer Centers first opened their doors for public technology access in 1996. The organization’s mission states “The Greater New Bedford Community Computer Centers (GNBC3) is a community building initiative to tap the resources and skills of individuals, public non-profit institutions and private sector sponsors to better serve the people of Greater New Bedford. The GNBC3 aims to empower, educate and erode inequities in access to computer-based communications and information for multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multigenerational people and groups who lack, or have limited access to computer technology.
In the article Community Media, author Kevin Howley explains that community media initiatives are effective strategies in democratizing communication and ensuring local autonomy. The GNBC3 helps to bridge the divide between those who have computer access and resources and those who lack them. Located on the north, south and in the central downtown area, the 3 Computer Centers are affiliated with the local Community Economic Development Center, and are run by volunteers and housed with equipment donated or equipment recycled from the community and refurbished by staff and volunteers.
GNBC3 is the culmination of three years of planning and a collaborative effort of a local non-profit called PACE (People Acting in Community Endeavors), corporate sponsors, more than 50 volunteers and The Island Foundation, which contributed $6,000 in start-up funds. Currently it receives funding and/or equipment from; the East-West Foundation, New Bedford Standard-Times/Ultra-Net , The Providence Journal , Lotus Corporation, Microsoft and Tom Snyder Software. GNBC 3 is also affiliated with Community Technologies Centers Network, a national organization that helps to develop community-based centers and assists in obtaining grants.
For a yearly fee of $20, members have access to the centers equipment. This community building initiative taps the resources and skills of individuals, public non-profit institutions and private sector sponsors to better serve the people of Greater New Bedford. The GNBC3 aims to empower, educate and erode inequities in access to computer-based communications and information for multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multigenerational people and groups who lack, or have limited access to computer technology.
GNBC3 is governed by a Board of Directors and is managed by Executive Director Corinn Williams, along with a staff of six. Some of the highlights of the programs GNBC3 runs are:
· VITA (the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program) helps prepare tax returns for those who need assistance.
· Students recycling and refurbishing donated computers during their After School Computer Recycle and Refurbish Program & The School Vacation Computer Boot Camp.
· Their Immigrant Support Network, ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and Computer Literacy classes.
· In conjunction with the United Way of Greater New Bedford, their Community Building Mini-Grants Program funded 40 projects of volunteer and grassroots organizations.
· Their Smart Start program provided business and technical assistance to 20 existing and start-up businesses.
One of the more challenging issues faced by the GNBC3 is to get bilingual volunteers at the centers to better serve the Portuguese and Spanish speaking people who need tutoring and assistance. Another area that is a struggle is that the organization is always a “work in progress”, with ever changing technology it is difficult to identify changing community needs and respond quickly with updated equipment. However, they are committed to their mission and believe that giving members of the community the tools they need to improve their computer skills will, at the same time, help to strengthen and benefit city as a whole.
Howley, K. Community Media People, Places and Communication Technologies.