Chhaya CDC officially opened its new computer and technology lab last Wednesday morning. Thanks to a $50,000 grant by Charter Communications, formerly known as Time Warner Cable, the center has 33 brand new laptops with high-speed Internet.
“The reality is access to technology remains an issue for folks who are low-income, who face linguistic barriers, or who may be culturally marginalized,” said Chhaya executive director Annetta Seecharran. “Coupled with actual technology, Chhaya is providing a hand to community members that includes translation and interpretation.”
Seecharran said Chhaya started 16 years ago to address emerging housing issues in the community. Their services include free tax prep, financial empowerment and workforce development programs.
Over the years, the programs have evolved to address changing needs.
“We’re thrilled about this new resource because it supports Chhaya’s existing programs,” she said.
For example, after taking a financial empowerment or tax course, community members can now sit down at Chhaya’s center and do their taxes. After a workforce development workshop, they can use a laptop to create a resume or write a cover letter.
“There are so many ways in which having this incredible asset will also deepen Chhaya’s existing programs,” Seecharran said. “It will boost everything that we do with our services.”
Deepa Patel, Chhaya’s board chair, said the new technology would help members who want to start a new business or learn English. It will even help those who do have computers at home, but don’t know how to use them.
“You may even have access to a computer, but you’re scared to use them if you don’t know English,” Patel said. “Having someone sitting next to you to help you go through that process makes you more comfortable.
“This is introducing a whole new demographic to computers that they can take advantage of to better their lives,” she added.
Wajeeha Aziz, area vice president of Technical Operations for Charter Communications, said in today’s digital age it’s all about fast Internet speeds and reliable access to information.
To better help New Yorkers connect with the world, Charter is planning to open 40 similar learning labs across the city by 2020.
“By partnering with local nonprofits, our learning labs are connecting New Yorkers and helping to bridge the digital divide,” Aziz said. “We believe in giving New Yorkers the tools with which to succeed, and we believe our technology can certainly help pave that way.”
Councilman Daniel Dromm lauded both Chhaya and Charter Communications for their community work. As an elected official, Dromm said, he often provides funds for computer equipment for local schools.
“I know how expensive they are,” he said. “This grant is huge, it’s really going to benefit our community. Once people find out that this is available to them, they’re going to flock to this.”