|Plough Towers Computer Learning Center Becomes Eighth to Achieve Model Status|
Memphis, TN—On September 26, 2007, the Plough Towers Computer Learning Center achieved Model (Level 3) status in the Neighborhood Networks Center Classification System. Of the more than 1,300 Neighborhood Networks centers, only eight have attained this highest level of Center Classification that is reserved for those centers that serve as models of excellence for the entire Initiative.
“We are so excited and honored to be deemed a Model center,” said Rena Rosenberg, executive director at the Plough Towers Computer Learning Center. “When we achieved Certified (Level 2) status, we reviewed the qualifications for Model status and thought, ‘We have what it takes to be a Model center. Let’s go for it.’ It wasn’t until after we submitted our application package that we learned how prestigious it is to be a Model center. That was probably a good thing because if we had known, I think we would’ve been much more nervous about the whole application process.”
Rosenberg and her team would have worried unnecessarily. Their commitment to fulfilling the Neighborhood Networks mission and creating a center that helps residents expand their horizons was obvious to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who placed them in the elite group of Model centers.
Worth the Wait
Plough Towers was built in 1980 when two women recognized a need to create more affordable housing for senior members of the Jewish community. Led by the women’s enthusiastic efforts, the Jewish community constructed an 11-story, 150-unit high-rise that is home to approximately 175 seniors. To live in Plough Towers, an individual must be at least 62 years old or have a mobility impairment and have an annual income within HUD guidelines. Today, there is a year-and-a-half wait to become a resident of Plough Towers.
The long wait to live at Plough Towers is most likely due to the many onsite amenities offered to residents, such as the Plough Towers Computer Learning Center. When Plough Towers opened in 1980, it boasted an onsite library for residents. In 1997, to keep pace with the changing times and technology, computers were added to the library, and the space officially became known as the Plough Towers Computer Learning Center.
“We were able to create the computer center with the help of our partner, the University of Tennessee’s Memphis Educational Computer Connectivity Alliance, or MECCA,” said Rosenberg. “Larry Tague, the coordinator at MECCA, has been a huge help. Larry helped us obtain our first computer, and then our second, and then he helped us double the number to four. Today, with the help of Larry, we have six Apple eMac computers—four iMacs and two eMacs. Through MECCA, we also receive technical support and discounts for high-speed Internet.”
Each weekday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the center’s computer teacher, Dorothy Robinson, offers both open lab time and a basic computer class. The class covers everything from using the mouse and keyboard to learning word processing, navigating the Internet, creating an e-mail account, and scanning and touching up photos. Residents are presented with a certificate of completion at the monthly resident meeting once they finish the class.
“Dorothy has done an amazing job with the senior residents since starting at the center five years ago,” said Rosenberg. “Some of our residents have never seen a computer in their lives before coming to the center, and Dorothy works with them one-on-one to get them comfortable with using one. About 19 residents have already completed the class and received their certification, and there is a waiting list to take Dorothy’s classes. We’ve already spoken with the University of Tennessee to see if they can help us get more computers and software at a discounted rate or be willing to supplement the cost.”
To further maximize its resources, Plough Towers Computer Learning Center is a member of Computer Literacy Initiatives, Inc. Initiated in July 2003, Computer Literacy Initiatives, Inc. came about when members of the West Tennessee Neighborhood Networks Centers Association agreed to form a nonprofit entity that could seek funds and provide technical assistance to all the West Tennessee centers. Larry Sisson, vice president of TESCO Properties, spearheaded the group’s efforts to obtain nonprofit status approval by the Tennessee Secretary of State and 501(c)(3) approval by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). On October 20, 2004, the Secretary of State approved the charter for Computer Literacy Initiatives, Inc., however, the group is still awaiting approval of its 501(c)(3) application.
Use It or Lose It
To help residents continually expand and improve their computer skills, Robinson and Rosenberg formed a stationery creation and production business. “Using the skills they learned in class and gained from tinkering with the various software programs, the residents create a variety of products that we sell to the community,” said Rosenberg. “Some of the items they create include greeting cards, personalized labels, note cards, and business cards. They also scan old photographs and retouch them on the computer. We have samples of the various items we produce on display in the center, and people can come to the center and place their orders. All of the money we receive is put back into the center. Most of our work comes from word of mouth or is obtained during our annual open house.”
Connecting with the Community
Recognizing the importance of community support and unity, Rosenberg has hosted a center open house for the past two years. “Last year, we had about 300 people visit the center during our open house,” said Rosenberg. “It was standing room only. For the open house, each resident receives two invitations, which are made at the computer center, to send to family and friends. We also invite the board of directors, and we promote the event with an article in a local magazine.”
Rosenberg also uses this opportunity to showcase the center’s programs and services and seek much-needed support. “For the open house, I create a ‘wish list’ of items that we need at the center,” said Rosenberg. “These items include everything from computers and printers to ink and paper. Last year, I think I got pretty much everything I wished for.”
At the center’s last open house, Rosenberg gave a brief presentation that was followed by performances from the Plough Towers choir and a local musician. “We also offered refreshments and tours of the center. To promote our stationery business, we displayed all of the products we make at the computer center, as well as the various awards we’ve received over the years. I guarantee you, at this year’s open house, we will have our Model center award on display. It’s an achievement that we definitely need to promote with the community and potential partners and supporters.”
For more information about Neighborhood Networks centers in Tennessee, contact:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Nashville Field Office
235 Cumberland Bend Drive
Nashville, TN 37228
(615) 736-7000 x2342
For more information about the Plough Towers Computer Learning Center, contact:
Plough Towers Computer Learning Center
6580 Poplar Avenue
Memphis, TN 38138
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Department of Housing and Urban
451 7th Street S.W.,
Washington, DC 20410
708-1112 TTY: (202)