|At Dauphin Gate Network Center, Pattern Points to Need for New Programs|
Mobile, AL—Even though the Dauphin Gate Network Center has always enjoyed a consistent level of resident participation, Center Director Dee Edwards knew that there were many more residents who could benefit from its resources. However, despite actively promoting the center and conducting surveys to determine what residents need and want, Edwards only noticed a minor increase in the number of residents who took advantage of the center’s programs and services.
“I am very familiar with the residents who live here, and I know this center is a valuable resource to each and every one of them. However, each week, it seemed like it was the same group of people using the center. I knew there were others out there whose lives could be changed if they just walked through those doors,” stated Edwards.
While Edwards continued to think of ways to motivate residents to take advantage of the onsite center, she offered a variety of programs to help residents achieve greater self-sufficiency and access to technology. It was while teaching computer classes that Edwards noticed a pattern that provided some explanation as to why her attempts to increase participation were only met with limited success.
Providing Skills on which to Build
“One day, while I was teaching a computer class, I realized that the resident with whom I was working was having a difficult time reading what was on the screen. That’s when I discovered that this particular resident had a low literacy level. This got me thinking, and I realized that this was not the first time I had encountered such a situation. Then, it was like a light bulb went off in my head and I had a strong suspicion as to why I couldn’t increase participation levels. If residents cannot read or write, how can they participate in computer training classes and other programs?” said Edwards.
To determine if this was the case, Edwards conducted formal and informal surveys with residents. “It was important for me to determine if low literacy levels were affecting participation. If that was the reason why residents were not visiting the center, then I needed to launch a program that increased their literacy level so they could participate in more programs. However, it was equally important to be sensitive when discussing the topic, especially if my suspicion was correct and low literacy was keeping these residents from achieving their full potential. Needless to say, I was amazed to find out the number of residents who struggle with literacy issues. I also learned that a number of residents wanted to get their GED [General Educational Development],” explained Edwards.
Knowing that she had to implement both a literacy and a GED program if residents were going to take full advantage of the resources offered at the Dauphin Gate Network Center, Edwards began searching for the resources to do so. She applied for numerous grants to get the resources to offer a program. She also talked with several local businesses. She finally found the vital support she needed by forming a partnership with Goodwill Easter Seals of the Gulf Coast.
“Goodwill Easter Seals is a fabulous partner, especially Ledia Caudet, the volunteer coordinator, and volunteers Pat Pose and Ann Miller.” Edwards went on to explain, “On Monday and Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., Pat comes to the center to teach the literacy class, and she brings all the necessary materials. On Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., Ann comes to the center to teach the GED preparation class. She also provides the materials, and Goodwill Easter Seals will pay for residents to take the GED exam, which costs $50, when they are ready. Being able to offer these types of programs on the property is the biggest advantage.”
The Proof Is in the Reading
Currently, there are two residents enrolled in the literacy program and four residents taking the GED class. The small classes are not due to lack of resident interest. Goodwill Easter Seals is short on volunteers, and the volunteers teaching the literacy and GED classes at the center prefer to keep the class size small so they can give the residents personalized attention and instruction.
“Keeping the classes small is paying off too. We have a mother and son in the literacy class now. When they started the program two months ago, they could not read at all. Last week, they received their certificate for reading at the second-grade level. I’m very proud of their motivation and dedication that enabled them to cover two years worth of lesson plans in two months,” Edwards expressed.
Keeping Up with Demand
While smaller class sizes are allowing residents to make faster progress, Edwards is constantly being asked by residents if she plans to add more classes to the curriculum. “Right now, we have a waiting list of 17 people wanting to take either the literacy or GED class. Every day, another person walks in the door and adds his or her name to that list,” said Edwards.
To provide more residents with the opportunity to enhance their literacy or prepare for taking the GED exam, Edwards is working to expand these programs and described how she is accomplishing this. “I have been busy writing a bunch of grants. The Dauphin Gate Network Center is a member of the Alabama Neighborhood Networks Consortium, so that makes us eligible to apply for numerous grants. I’m waiting to hear on a grant from Dollar General. Joseph Mayerhoff, who is very involved in the Neighborhood Networks New York Consortium, told me about the funding opportunity. He has been great in helping me put a winning proposal together. If we are awarded the grant, I plan to buy GED software that can be loaded on one of our 10 computers. That station will be dedicated to GED preparation. The software is very user-friendly and residents can learn at their own pace. And once we improve their reading and writing skills and help them obtain their GED, we’ll be twice as busy helping them improve their computer skills so they can get better jobs. I think I made much more work for myself, but I’m really happy that I am removing an obstacle that lay in the way of so many residents’ success.”
For more information about Neighborhood Networks centers in Alabama contact:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Birmingham Field Office
Medical Forum Building, Suite 900
950 22nd Street N
Birmingham, AL 35203-5301
For more information about the Dauphin Gate Network Center, contact:
Dauphin Gate Network Center
3250 Dauphin Street
Mobile, AL 36606
For more information on national organizations mentioned in this story, contact:
Goodwill Industries International
15810 Indianola Drive
Rockville, MD 20855
230 West Monroe Street, Suite 1800
Chicago, IL 60606
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Department of Housing and Urban
451 7th Street S.W.,
Washington, DC 20410
708-1112 TTY: (202)