The grand opening of the Public Community Center at the Human Services Knud Hansen Complex on St. Thomas on Thursday began with an invocation by Dianne Croaker, who later also prayed that the center remain secure so that it can serve as many members of the community as possible – to which everyone responding with a resounding Amen.
Following the invocation, Director of Therapeutic Recreation Shereese Jurgen introduced the center itself, reminding those present of its purpose: to provide senior and other citizens the opportunity to develop digital literacy in the digital era.
Addressing the senior citizens attending the opening directly, Jurgen said, “Don’t be intimidated by how the computers look. In the end, they will be one of your best friends.”
Michal Rhymer-Browne, assistant commissioner of the St. Thomas/St. John district Department of Human Services, echoed Jurgen’s sentiments that it is essential for the island’s public to become comfortable with the technology that has become commonplace. Rhymer-Browne also underlined the opportunities that digital literacy opens, smiling as she said, “We like to be a gateway to good things.”
Yvonne Fenton, PCC program manager, wrapped up the morning’s program by summarizing some of the educational services the center will offer. Citizens will be able to take a Digital Literacy Course through V.I. Next Generation Network. Those who complete the sequence will then have access to over 5,000 training classes through a partnership with CyberLearning Inc. and the National Education Foundation.
A ribbon cutting completed the ceremony, with Jurgen; Murlene VanBeverhoudt, administrator of the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs; and senior citizen Loale Barron all holding scissors. Eager to start learning, the seniors in attendance rushed inside as soon as the door to the center opened.
Rhymer-Browne and VanBeverhoudt immediately began to demonstrate how to perform a Google search – the first for most of the senior citizens.
The center is home to a eight computers equipped with webcams, which Barron said she is looking forward to learning how to use so she can Skype with her granddaughter.
PCC is compliant with the American Disability Act, and VanBeverhoudt noted that everyone involved hopes to include equipment for visually impaired users in the near future and to continue to grow the center to accommodate and serve its users’ needs.
The PCC will feature a teacher to give its students hands-on lessons and instruction. Keith Caldwell will volunteer to teach in the center. Caldwell says he wants to teach not just computer literacy, but genuine familiarity with digital technology. Looking at the small crowd of seniors attending the opening, Caldwell said, “Some of them have never even touched a computer.”
He went on to reiterate a comment by VanBeverhoudt and the sentiment of everyone involved: this center meets a major need for digital education in the St. Thomas community. Caldwell holds his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in public health and said he looks forward to sharing his knowledge and experience with the community via the PCC.
A similar computer center has already opened on St. Croix, but this is the first digital literacy and education center offered by the Department of Human Services on St. Thomas. Although the center is the result of a strong partnership between viNGN and the Division of Senior Citizens Affairs, all members of the public may use the new facilities.