When Tobytown resident James Martin found out that the community center would be getting an upgraded computer lab, he realized immediately how useful it will be.
“Basically, you can’t do anything without a computer,” Martin said.
As part of this year’s budget, the county has set aside $35,000 in funding to install 10 new computers, with Internet access, in the community center.
“It will be out there to serve the community,” said Andrew Oxendine, senior property manager for the county’s Housing Opportunities Commission which administers the community center.
The center currently has four computers which look like museum pieces and are not connected to the Internet.
Oxendine plans to do more than just dump computers into the laps of the community.
“We hope to have training and some type of infrastructure for continuing support,” he said.
The residents will be able to access the computer lab, even during off hours, through the community center’s custodian, who lives in Tobytown.
The project is called the “Tobytown Digital Divide Computer Lab.” The “Digital Divide” refers to a nationwide trend showing that lower income households do not typically have the same access to computers and the internet.
“We need something,” said Tobytown resident Rich Genies, 20.
“It’s a community with a broad range of needs,” said Councilmember Steve Silverman (D-At Large). He hopes that this is not an unusual event. “I think this is a first step in trying to develop services for the Tobytown community.”
Since it was included the FY ’04 budget, the money will not be available until the budget year begins on July 1. A timetable has yet to be established but it is hoped that the equipment will be installed in the late summer or early fall.
Others working to improve services to the community are happy to see the improvements.
“One of the things that was obvious was that you can’t help an isolated community,” said Allison Bryant, a member of Friends of Tobytown and the Park and Planning Commission. He explained that Internet access will help bring Tobytown out of that isolation.
“Residents young and old can have access to a computer,” he said.
In an effort to stem the physical isolation of the community, the county is also trying to develop a strategy for expanding service. “We are going to continue our dialogue with the Tobytown community and try to assess what their needs are,” said Silverman