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Washington Voices

East Central opens computer lab

Thu., Oct. 13, 2011

Katie Gronenthal visits East Central Community Center’s computer lab to get on the Internet on Friday. (Christopher Anderson)
Katie Gronenthal visits East Central Community Center’s computer lab to get on the Internet on Friday. (Christopher Anderson)

Job-seekers increasingly need Internet

The national economy added more than 100,000 jobs in September. To jobseekers that’s good news, but it’s no guarantee that one of the coveted jobs is within reach.

Take the Spokane man who went to apply for a job at a local gas station. He was qualified for the job. He had a résumé. It all seemed possible until the clerk told him he had to fill out an application online. Since the man didn’t own a computer, the clerk may as well have told him not to apply for the job.

“It’s like that a lot. So many applications are online – you can’t just walk in and give them a résumé,” said Karen Michaelson, executive director of Tincan (the Inland Northwest Community Access Network) at the opening of a new computer lab at East Central Community Center on Friday.

“Low-income neighborhoods are sometimes locked out of jobs that require you to apply online. Many jobs aren’t listed in the paper anymore, they are just online.”

The new computer lab at East Central Community Center has 13 desktop, IBM-compatible computers and one Mac workstation as well as video cameras and other equipment needed for video and sound production. There’s also a printer and the most commonly used software is installed on the computers.

Cat Altermatt, who works at the center, set up all of the computers.

“We tried to make everything as simple as possible, for people to use the lab,” she said.

All users need to do to get on a computer is sign in and sign the rules for the lab.

“We don’t ask a lot of personal information,” Altermatt said. “Many people don’t like giving out a lot of details.” Users can print five normal size pages for free; the charge is 25 cents for each page after that.

“We hope we can make it open to after-school programs later this year,” Altermatt said, adding that just next door, the East Side Library has evening computer hours.

The computer lab is funded by a $2 million grant Tincan procured from the Department of Commerce about a year ago.

“The grant is intended to get Internet into the hands of people who don’t have computer access at home,” said Tincan’s Michaelson. The city of Spokane is a partner in the program.

After assessing community nonprofits, libraries and community centers, Tincan has helped establish new computer labs at four community centers and five nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA, Crosswalk and the Martin Luther King Center.

“The libraries already had a Gates Grant for computers, but we helped them get faster Internet access,” Michaelson said.

Prior to the new lab, East Central Community Center had access to just two computers in the senior center, said center director Kathy Armstrong.

“Many people don’t have much experience with computers when they come in here, but we can help them,” Armstrong said. “So many applications for jobs and for social services are online now, and that’s tough if you don’t own a computer.”

Tincan will be offering classes in basic computer skills and common software such as Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook.

“Even minimum wage jobs are listed online,” said Michaelson. “We can show you how to find jobs online and how to do an online cover letter.”

A recent Friday morning was also SNAP’s energy assistance program’s opening day.

“We had lots of people in here making SNAP appointments this morning,” Armstrong said. “The computer lab is going to be of great help to a lot of people here.”

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