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February 26, 2001

Young students benefit
from tech center

By Eric Rangus

On Feb. 5, the Emory Healthcare/John D. Henry Family Technology Resource Center opened at Columbia Elementary School in South DeKalb County. The goal of the center is to teach computer skills not only to the students, but also to their parents and even the community at large.

There is an extra perk, as well. For those adults who complete an 18-week training course, Emory Human Resources personnel will follow up with additional training and, for people whose new skill sets match Emory needs, qualified graduates will be interviewed for jobs on campus.

“Our philosophy is that we work with communities to help them reach their goals,” said Don Speaks, associate director of community affairs and market development for Emory Healthcare. Speaks was one of the main catalysts behind the effort to create the center. Emory Hospitals CEO John Henry provided the money for the center’s creation: $50,000.

The center’s domino effect on the community, which is far less affluent than Emory’s Druid Hills home, is easy to see. Children learn new skills, and their parents and other neighborhood adults have a whole new world of job opportunities opened to them.

“Most of the time institutions do things to communities or for communities. We do things with communities to empower them so that once the facilitator is gone they can pick up and do things themselves,” Speaks said.

The center, by all accounts, has been a rousing success.

During the day students can use its 32 computers with teacher supervision. In the evening, the center is open for two sessions, four nights a week. There’s currently a waiting list of 115 people.

“Everyday we have someone come in and complete an application,” Columbia Principal Valerie Swinton said. She has even seen a related increase in PTA attendance.

Two technology specialists trade off as facilitators during the evening classes, daycare is available for parents who can’t leave young children at home, and a security guard is present throughout the class time. Parents also are encouraged to work on the computer with their children.
Emory Healthcare’s partnership with Columbia actually began two-and-a-half years ago when the DeKalb County school system approached Henry about the possibility of Emory and its hospitals expanding its education partnership with the system.

Emory has long had solid relationships with schools in its backyard, such as Druid Hills High and Fernbank Elementary, but with this effort, Henry and Speaks decided to widen their scope.

“[We felt] if we expanded our relationships, it should be in the southern end of the county—in the schools that have much greater challenges,” Speaks said.

So, after doing some research, Emory Healthcare selected Columbia Elementary as its partner.

The first step was a relatively small one. In 1998, Emory Healthcare budgeted $10,000 for assistance to the school, which went a long way. First aid kits were purchased for each classroom and teachers were trained in their use. The money also provided videotapes on the healthcare profession to give the kids an early start on career ideas. The money was also used to purchase new carpeting and

The changes were positive, but they represented baby steps.

“We came to the conclusion that we needed to make a more substantial investment in the school,” Speaks said.

When Swinton floated the idea of a family technology resource center to benefit the community, Emory Healthcare jumped at the idea to participate. Swinton, who has been principal at Columbia for two-and-a-half years was familiar with the centers and knew their effect since Hooper-Alexander Elementary, where she had been assistant principal, had one.

The idea was “one of substance, consequence and impact,” Henry told Speaks. So Henry budgeted the money and the center was named in his honor.

That was about a year ago and now, the center is one of 17 located in DeKalb County schools and educational centers.

Speaks said the main targets of the center are Columbia’s students, followed by their parents, then the community at large. And Emory is serious about its commitment to the area.

An 18-week training course has been set up to teach participants the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Not just the Microsoft Office suite of computer applications, but more subtle skills, such as workplace decorum and the importance of punctuality.

Del King,director of employment and Human Resources Information Systems, said HR personnel will run these extracurricular training courses. Emory will bring selected training course graduates to campus, test them, and if they pass, will hire them.

“We’re hoping that, once the first graduating class is complete, we can get the people lined up for jobs,” said Cathy Patton of Emory Healthcare human resources. She helped determine the course curriculum to match Emory’s needs.

Speaks said Emory Healthcare has an abundance of entry-level data entry positions and family technology resource centers would be an excellent way to replenish Emory’s labor force—and give a major boost to local communities.

According to Patton, more than 100 clerical-type jobs are open at Emory Healthcare at any time.

“I’m certain we’ll expand the commitment,” Speaks said about the possibility of partnering with other schools. “It’s in our best interest.”


Back to Emory Report Feb. 26, 2001