June 3, 2004 – Sen. Celestino A. White's office will soon have 50 new personal computers to give away to schools and youth-focused community and church groups on St. Thomas and St. John, and the senator says the time has come to determine which groups will receive them.
White said on Wednesday that he and his chief researcher, Franke Hoheb, did an informal study in March to get an idea of how much access students in his St. Thomas-St. John district have to computers and the Internet, and how they're spending their time at the keyboard.
White said he and Hoheb quickly discovered "a lack of computer and Internet access" for many young people. White also said that at the locales they checked out where computers with online access are available to young people, "there was a lot of play, play, play [of computer games] after school, and the kids are falling behind in this new age of technology and computers."
White and Hoheb set out to do something about that, and at the end of March they drafted a letter they mailed to every Economic Development Commission beneficiary company in the territory asking for assistance in supplying computers, Internet access and training. "We shared our vision," White said, "and asked for a little financial help in consideration of the generous tax benefits these companies receive."
The J. Epstein VI Foundation, the charitable arm of St. Thomas-based Financial Trust Company Inc., rose to the challenge. In a letter dated May 28, FTC manager Cecile R. de Jongh committed to donating "up to $30,000 for the sole purpose of purchasing up to 50 computers."
White and Hoheb have taken steps to make the distribution process as fair as possible and to ensure that the computers end up in secure environments where they will be properly utilized and cared for. A two-page application form has been created to identify groups with the resources and facilities necessary to receive the computers, and a four-member board of directors has been set up to make the awards.
"We want to emphasize that we are not doing this," Hoheb said." The board of directors will be making the determination as to where these computers will go."
White and Hoheb are pleased with the early signs of success for the computer initiative, but both say it is just the beginning. "The ultimate goal is to place 150 computers on St. Thomas and St. John," White said, and this means that more help is still needed.
White said they are going to widen their appeal beyond the EDC companies. "Now that our initial goal of 50 computers has been reached, we will be looking to professional organizations — the Chamber of Commerce, the Hotel Association. This is a total outreach program where we can all partner with the children," he said.
White said he intends to begin distributing the first 50 computers at the start of the new school year, "sometime during the first two weeks of September."
Hoheb said they are actively seeking the assistance of the community, and anyone wishing to help can contact him at 693-3568.
Schools and organizations wishing to be considered for donation of the computers must complete an application form and submit it to White's office no later than July 15. Applications can be picked up at the senator's office.
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