Photo courtesy of Perry Klein.

On Saturday, April 23, five Southwest youth were honored with a graduation ceremony for completing the Computer-for-Kids computer training program. This ceremony was memorable for many reasons, but most notable is that the number of students graduating from the program exceeded the 100 mark for the first time since its inception in 2007. The Computer-for-Kids program is the brainchild of Thelma D. Jones, chairperson of the SWNA Youth Activities Task Force (YATF). She is diligent in ensuring that students learn the importance of technology in their early years so they can be prepared to utilize it not only in an educational setting, but also in a professional one as well.

This group of graduates was recruited to participate in the program, thanks to the tireless efforts of the staunch youth advocate in this community Christine Spencer, who is vice president of the James Creek Resident Council. When the YATF sought another location to spread the computer instruction, Spencer offered her resident council community room. Thanks again to the SWNA Technology Task Force Chair Perry Klein and his technicians, who set up a computer lab at the James Creek site. In true form of community support to enrich the minds of youth, motivational greetings were delivered by Quantay Oliver, who is the DC Housing Authority property manager of the James Creek Townhomes in Southwest. Oliver expressed how proud he was of the graduates and encouraged them to become lifetime seekers of knowledge and to share it by teaching others. As further expression of Oliver’s support for the youth in the community, he noted that when his daughters did well in school, he awarded them with a dinner of their choice. He demonstrated that sense of caring in the same manner by handing each graduate a monetary gift for them to purchase a dinner of their choice. The audience shed tears of admiration and the graduates wore smiles of thanks!

To ensure that the computer knowledge students attained in the Computer-for-Kids training program continues after graduation, the YATF partners with the SWNA Technology Task Force in presenting the graduates with refurbished computers to use in their homes. This tangible resource benefits not only the students, but also their families as well. Students are encouraged to impart their computer knowledge on their families so that not only is learning transferred in a familial setting, but students become educators to those who care for them. It is often said that families who pray together, stay together. It can also be said that families who learn together, grow together.

This sense of familial connectedness was on full display at the graduation, which more than 40 people attended. The majority in attendance were proud parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and friends. The graduates sat proudly on the stage of the Westminster Presbyterian Church as guest speaker Mckindria J. Letsinger, BS, RN stood at the podium and turned to speak directly to the graduates. The choice of Letsinger as guest speaker was not only memorable, but also most suitable as she was born and raised in Southwest and is a former SWNA scholarship recipient. She attended Amidon-Bowen Elementary School, Jefferson Junior High School, and School Without Walls, where she graduated with honors. Letsinger is a highly accomplished young lady who credits some of her success and appreciation as a scholarship recipient with helping to give her a head start in technology by enhancing how she used a computer to enrich her studies. She conveyed to graduates how computers assist her in the work she performs as a registered nurse. Letsinger noted that she was truly honored to be recognized in her community in her capacity as guest speaker and even prouder to be a SW resident who will continue to provide mentorship to the youth in the community.

The graduation ceremony concluded with the presentation of certificates to graduating students from their instructors. Gerald Brown has been the senior computer instructor of the Computer-for-Kids program since its inception. He has been assisted by instructors Frank Fu and Jenelle Leonard. Each graduate was awarded a laminated certificate acknowledging that they successfully completed the program. Gift bags prepared by instructor Leonard were given to the graduates as a token of gratitude for their attendance during the eight-week class. As each one walked to the podium, the audience clapped loudly and many captured the presentation of certificates with their cameras. This was such a proud moment in their lives that the graduates stood tall and smiled proudly as the audience gave them a standing ovation. Acknowledgements and closing remarks were given by YATF Chairperson Jones. Thanks and gratitude abounds to all YATF members, volunteers, donors, and partners who continue to keep this program successful. Most importantly, much recognition goes to the families of the graduates who demonstrated the value of education bestowed on their children by way of active participation in the Computer-for-Kids training program.

A sincere and special thanks to Westminster Presbyterian Church Co-Pastors Brian and Ruth Hamilton who graciously opened their sanctuary for the graduation ceremony. It is not surprising that this event took place at their location, given that Westminster is hospitable to community groups and their respective outreach efforts. By providing their church space to foster goodwill and to celebrate accomplishments of their fellow Southwest residents, we are very fortunate to have them as a viable resource in our community and who also welcomed YATF to host future graduations at their church.

By: Dena Walker, Member

SWNA Youth Activities Task Force

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