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Neighborhood Networks motto is to 'help people help themselves' to become self-sufficient

Charles Williams
Charles Williams assists high school students Ashley Carter, Salicia Williams and Marcus Shadwick do their homework on the computer.

Charles Williams wants to instill in other children and youth the importance of education to help them find jobs to earn a living and support their families.

As part of his work with Neighborhood Networks, he helps interact with and tutor grade school through high school students at the South Perry Learning Center now housed at Emmanuel Family Life Center.

His family came to Spokane 20 years ago when his father was in the Air Force, and he was in junior high school.  His parents met at Southern Illinois University, not completing their degrees because his father entered the military.

During high school, Charles volunteered at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Outreach Center.   While studying history at Eastern Washington University, he worked with East Central after-school and summer programs, and with the Neighborhood Networks after-school program at the Richard Allen Apartments.

Neighborhood Networks was established as a program of U.S. Housing and Urban Development in 1995 to give people in low-income apartment complexes access to computer technology so they have better access to jobs, health education, Department of Social and Health Services information, tenants information, awareness of technology and economic opportunities, and games, crafts and recreational activities.

The program came to Richard Allen Apartments in 1997, starting in the office of the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The office moved to the Richard Allen Apartments office for more space and then in 2008 to Emmanuel Family Life Center, 631 S. Richard Allen Ct., on the same campus.

Richard Allen Apartments is one of several low-income apartment complexes managed by Kiemle and Hagood, offering Neighborhood Networks resources, said Betsy Williams, who is assistant manager of Neighborhood Networks for the Richard Allen Apartments complex.

Betsy started working with Neighborhood Networks in 2003, and since then has been working on earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ashford University, an online college.  She completes the program this term and plans to continue on to earn a master’s degree and eventually a seminary degree.  Betsy, who attends Bethel AME, will be ordained as an itinerate deacon in 2013, and plans to take seminary studies in Spokane.

“I’m an example that no matter what one’s financial status or educational background is, people experiencing hardships can earn degrees online,” she said.  “I’m a work in progress.  Life is an adventure.  I am prepared to let God pour me out to the service God has called me to do.  People caught in a rut need resources to help them pull out of poverty.”

Charles works with Neighborhood Networks to help maintain computers at various Kiemle and Hagood complexes, lead the after-school and summer-teen programs, teach resumĂ© building, computer software skills and responsible renters classes. 

All the programs are for the community, not just those living in Richard Allen Apartments.

“I love to help people,” Charles said, who is involved with his family in Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. 

Charles also plays the drums, is in the choir, and is advisor to the youth group, which leads the service every third Sunday.  The church’s young people’s division includes young people from his three-year-old son to 26 years old.  He also encourages children and youth at the church to complete high school and go to college.

 “Education is important, because no one can take your education away from you,” he said.

“I have learned patience in working with the students,” he said.  “Some students learn fast and some learn slow.  I need to communicate with each.”

The center also has three eight-foot shelves of books donated by Links, Inc.  Many of the books are about African Americans. 

Two days a week the children in the after-school program spend time in Emmanuel Family Life Center’s gym.  Charles also coaches a seventh grade boys’ basketball team.

Betsy said all of her family will be in higher education programs in January.  Her husband earned an associate degree and is ready to work for a degree in construction management to advance his work in that field with Kiemle and Hagood.

We get education to give back to the community,” she said.  “So many of us are blessed because we have been helped along the way.”

Charles seeks to steer young people away from using drugs.

“God saved me from that,” Charles said.  “I do not want youth to experience that.  I mentor them so they will help others.”

The motto of Neighborhood Networks is “people helping people help themselves,” so they are more self-sufficient, Betsy said.

People need people to help them help themselves, because people caught in difficult times and poverty find it hard to rise above their despair, she said.

The after school program of the South Perry Learning Center serves about 30 students, with 15 to 20 coming each day for help with homework, a safe haven and the computer lab.

In October, Tincan upgraded computers at Richard Allen’s Neighborhood Network Center and other public housing sites.  The South Perry Learning Center received 13 new computers, two projectors, a screen, a printer and software for learning and music. With the upgraded equipment, they receive training in digital literacy skills.

Tincan began in 1994 to provide information technology and interactive media for education and community development.  It creates online content, offers training and collaborates with partners to provide access to technologies.

With the computers, Charles will teach typing, music, math, English and safe web browsing.

The equipment and training are part of the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP), which Tincan coordinates in cooperation with more than 17 partners—community centers, nonprofits and libraries, said Tara Neumann, assistant director of Tincan since 2003.

Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, BTOP expands broadband access to unserved and underserved communities to provide long-term economic benefits. It reaches out to disenfranchised people to draw them and others into civic activism through providing technological literacy.

BTOP training includes instruction in internet basics, video production, social media and video games for self-expression, civic participation and social interaction.

Community colleges also have access to the computer lab during the day to do assignments.

Community Colleges of Spokane, Gonzaga University, Whitworth University and Eastern Washington University will provide two service-learning students helping each quarter with tutoring and other activities.

The center also welcomes volunteers to help students with their homework and as mentors, Charles said. 

The program needs volunteers all day, because he often goes to different sites to help people learn to use computers and to maintain computers.  It also needs funding to replace a source that was helping pay for snacks for the after-school program.

For information, call 535-9681 or email charlesl.williams84@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

Published by The Fig Tree, 1323 S. Perry St., Spokane, WA 99202
509-535-4112 / 509-535-1813

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