Before I joined the

Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (Assembly) nearly four years ago, I had never heard of Computer for Kids, much less why I might care about it. And even then, I considered it a marginal program, “graduating” just a handful of kids—kids I’d quite likely never meet. “Graduating” to me meant a day-long ceremony in front of hundreds of my peers, commenced upon the conclusion of multiple years at an accredited institution. And certainly I’d heard of mentoring programs—the national and city-wide program like Boys and Girls Club—all buttressed by name-recognition and paid staff. Indeed, I had volunteered myself.

That was then, this is now.

December 8th was the Youth Activities Task Force (YATF) Fall Computer for Kids Graduation. With the help of Clynthia Graham, Paul Taylor and other DPR staff, the graduation was held at the newly revitalized King-Greenleaf Recreation Center. Opening remarks were provided by Ron McBee, Thelma D. Jones and myself on behalf of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, the YATF and the Assembly, respectively. Instructor Frank Fu served as master of ceremonies. Qwawi Hakeem Graham, Executive Care IT Technician, US Food and Drug Administration gave a rousing keynote that nimbly mixed elements of humor, inspiration and candid tales, all while keeping both students and guests engaged. It was followed by a reception of healthy treats, compliments of YATF member Lenora Morange.

The graduation serves as the culmination of the semester long Computer for Kids Computer Training Program. The program targets Southwest youths, ages 6-13, in low-income families with limited access to computers: today’s prevailing gateway to growth and opportunity. But computers are just one important tool: the program goals go well beyond computer training. Students with good behavior, good participation and good attendance receive a computer at the end of the eight-week training program which has been recently held at Syphax Gardens. These computers—donated by Southwest residents and businesses—are refurbished by the Assembly’s Technology Task Force under the leadership of Perry Klein. Computer for Kids is also a wellness program: kids are provided healthy snacks and taught the benefits of healthy living under the guidance of Thelma D. Jones, YATF newly-appointed chairperson and founder and coordinator of the program.

Computers for Kids is one of SWNA-YATF’s longest running and most successful programs serving our youth, second only to YATF’s summer jobs program which employed more than 800 Southwest youth between the ages of 14-19 during the late 1980s to early 1990s. But perhaps what’s most remarkable is Computer for Kids’ unique success in reaching across our community’s notable economic and racial diversity. December’s graduation was evidence of these bonds, where the students, their friends, family, instructors, honored guests and city staff convened for a common cause. When it often seems easier to build barriers and lock doors, this is the sort of community-building program that, as President of the Assembly, I’m most proud to be a part of.

By Kael Anderson, President of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA).

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