Boys and Girls Club brings technology to remote Alaska

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ATLANTA -- The small community of Seldovia on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula is accessible only by plane or ferry. In this remote area, the main access to the modern world is the Seldovia branch of the Boys and Girls Club of America.

Thanks to a joint program of the Boys and Girls Club and Microsoft, the Seldovia club offers its members, and many local Natives, computers and access to the Internet.

According to Charisma Canon of the Boys and Girls Club, who is public relations coordinator for the Microsoft program, "They have no access to malls, movies or things of that sort. Now they are experiencing advanced technology. The program allows students to come outside of their little world."

Area youth as well as some adults in this remote area, work with programs including web pages, computer movies, music, photos and publishing. Programs such as Skill Tech I and II and Digital Arts Suit provide instruction from the basics of turning the computer on to designing web pages, making movies and disassembling a computer.

The program, Club Tech, started in Dec. 2000. Two years later, it is still going strong. Club Tech is a five-year, $100 million program to serve young people with access to computers and an opportunity to acquire basic and advanced computer skills. Currently there are 32 Boys and Girls Clubs on Indian reservations, equipped with state of the art technology centers and the Club Tech program. It brings computers and the Internet to more than 3.3 million at-risk children and teens.

In announcing the program, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates stated, "Technology has changed the way our children learn. Every child deserves access to this valuable medium, so they can develop the skills that will prepare them for the future."

Club Tech is providing Native youth with basic and advanced technological skills needed to compete in today's job market. "[We're] not only giving access to these young people, we are equipping them with life-long skills." Cannon said.

At another reservation club in Shiprock, N.M, young people at the Navajo reservation are learning about their culture and language via the Navajo language program. The program allows participants to repeat sentences in Navajo after hearing them spoken on the computers. Not only do the young people get to check their speech, but they also get to hear and repeat the sentences if they want to rephrase them or change them. The program even has adults joining in and taking a seat at the computers.

Cannon concluded, "The program levels the playing field for Native youth, and in the process, helps preserve the Indian culture. There is still a long road ahead in bridging the digital divide among Native Americans. But the Boys and Girls Club of America and Microsoft are working together to make that road a little shorter."