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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Computer Core provides skills training leading to a good job

Students in a Computer Core class.
For people out of work or struggling to make ends meet with a low-paying, menial job, basic computer skills can lead to a more secure future. That’s the premise of Computer Core, a non-profit organization that provides job skills training to lower-income residents of Northern Virginia.
Computer Core offers classes in typing and the Microsoft Office suite, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, to people who are unemployed or stuck in dead-end jobs.

At a recent visit to the program’s main office, at Fairlington Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, Executive Director Lynn O’Connell described a couple of Computer Core success stories:

Natalie, a Fairfax County native, had gotten married and had a child shortly after graduating from high school. When her husband died in a traffic accident, she had a hard time supporting her family with a low-paying job in retail. After learning how to use a computer, she was offered a job in a bank, and after a few promotions, was able to buy a house.

Another former student, a single-mother from East Africa named Tegist, had good English skills but no formal education beyond the sixth grade. Thanks to the skills she learned at Computer Core, she was able to trade her low-paying job in a bakery for a better opportunity with Navy Federal Credit Union.

In addition to the Fairlington location, Computer Core offers classes at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church, Providence Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, and United Methodist Church in Herndon. In January, Computer Core will add a fifth location—the Gum Springs Community Center in Alexandria.

The program serves about 192 serves at any one time (214 when the new site opens), and there are about 12 students in each class with about six volunteer instructors, O’Connell says.

Classes are three hours, twice a week, for six months. Most are at night, but each site offers a  couple of classes in the daytime. Students who complete the course earn seven college credits.

While some Computer Core students are dropouts, others have bachelor’s degrees, or even PhDs, but still need basic computer skills. Eighty percent of the students are immigrants, and in some cases, people find the advanced degrees they earned abroad don’t carry much weight in the United States.   

“The majority of students do work, sometimes two jobs, but sadly they’re still below the poverty line,” O’Connell says. The average income of Computer Core students is $12,000 to $15,000 a year, and 92 percent have children under age 18.

O’Connell said the goal is for people who complete the course to secure a job paying at least $25,000 to $30,000 within six months. Many Computer Core graduates are hired by defense contractors, banks, credit unions, or  hotels. About 45 percent of graduates continue their education, usually at Northern Virginia Community College.

The class is $200, but SkillSource will pick up the tab for eligible Fairfax County residents. Students can get a computer for $30, refurbished by Computer Core volunteers, to practice with at home.

Computer Core offers a free monthly session at its main center on navigating the job search process, including networking, interviewing, and resume drafting. The organization also provides job skills enhancement workshops for $25 in four career tracks: retail and sales, non-profit organizations, banking and finance, and how to start a business. 

About 169 volunteers work at Computer Core each month. Some come in once or twice a month to help students practice job interviews, while others are there 10 hours a week teaching classes or maintaining the computers. If you would like to volunteer, contact Lynn O’Connell.

Computer Core is hosting a free Career Connections Workshop Sept. 6, 6-7 p.m. at Fairlington Presbyterian Church, 3846 King St., Alexandria. Bring copies of your resume and any job leads to share. Park in the back and enter through the back door.

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