For Roenika Armstrong, surfing the Internet used to mean traveling about five miles south of her home in Logan to the Free Library of Philadelphia in hopes of nabbing a seat at a computer.
“They’re typically crowded or used up,” Armstrong said of the library’s resources. “If I wanted to get the computer usage for tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I would have to just actually go in there in the morning and hopefully luck up in getting a computer during the time that I needed.”
Now, thanks to the Carlton Simmons Community Technology Center at 4542 11th St., Armstrong strolls just three blocks from her home to a room equipped with 10 computers available for public use. There she hangs out during the center’s hours of operation, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She spends her time connecting with family and friends online as well as searching for jobs – a task Armstrong said that she used to struggle to complete using the limited Internet capabilities of her cell phone.
Such a resource has been welcomed on the street of row homes on which the center is located since its opening through Logan CDC in 2010. According to a 2012 study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop, 55 percent of Philadelphians do not have access to broadband Internet at home. For many, this means less experience using computers – a major obstacle to individuals’ professional opportunities.
Logan resident Hassan McAiley spends his time at the center not only sharpening his computer skills, but also developing a comprehensive plan for his soon-to-launch business.
“I’ve actually completed [my business plan.] What I do now is come back to critique it,” McAiley said. “And with the help of the instructors they have taught me different ways to build brochures, invitations, things of that nature – something that I didn’t have before.”
McAiley gained these and other basic computer skills by attending the center’s free weekly computer classes taught by Amendu Evans. The three-hour-long classes cover how to operate the computer, surf the Internet and use Microsoft Office applications. The center and classes have attracted residents of all ages.
“I have a lady that’s 87 years old and she’s learning just like anybody else,” Evans said. “She made other senior citizens want to come because of her.”
The center’s accessible resources and approachable classes have inspired residents throughout the community to use their new skills for professional advancement.
“Some of them got jobs through the skills they learned here and the basic computer skills they had gave them a chance to change their job,” Evans said.
Whether through job achievements or personal growth, the center has had a positive impact on community members.
“I actually have hope for my future,” Armstrong said. “I’m actually looking forward to doing different things because I am able to research it and actually see how it would apply to my life and progress me forward. I feel more confident about moving forward.”