On Saturday, Sept. 10, more than 200 guests cheered and applauded as 47 students received Certificates of Completion for 10-week computer classes offered at the Westside Health Authority’s (WHA) Community Technology Center, located at 5417 West Division.

The ceremony, held at Trinity Baptist Church, 1210 North Waller, was not a typical graduation ceremony of teenagers, who were applauded by proud parents. These students were mostly parents and grandparents who were applauded by their own children and grandchildren. The ages ranged from 14 to 70.

Several of the parents worked and attended the computer training classes at night ?” one pregnant student returned to class within days of giving birth. Others were retirees who wanted to learn how to use computers to communicate with out-of-town relatives or neighbors on the Internet.

Graduates received certificates for completing the Introduction to Computers class, which taught basic technology literacy skills, how to send and receive emails, and accessing the Internet. Several students also completed an advanced Microsoft Office Suites class. Completion of the classes were especially rewarding because many students had never used a computer.

Mrs. Carolyn McCullough gave a stirring speech during the ceremony. Employed as a driver for a bus transportation company, Mrs. McCullough was initially afraid of the computers. “At one point in my life, I was illiterate,” she said. “I took a literacy class to improve my reading skills. Then I wanted to learn how to use a computer. And my family motivated me to take a computer class at Westside Health Authority.”

In the early 1990s, the phrase “Digital Divide” was used to describe communities that lacked access to technology. Despite tremendous growth in jobs and other resources available through computer technology, many communities such as Austin still experience the “Divide”.

Access to computers and proper instruction is limited in neighborhood schools and libraries, which means community residents (of all ages) are at a disadvantage. WHA seeks to assist neighbors by having its Technology Center open to the public each day for general use, and offer classes at all levels.

Since its opening in Feb. 2003, more than 2,000 adults and youth have utilized WHA’s Tech Center. Classes will resume on Oct. 10, including Microsoft Office Suites, Introduction to Microsoft Word, and Webpage Design. To register, contact Ken Fuller, WHA Technology Instructor, at (773) 378-1878.