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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference

Local Group Works to Expand Computer Access for All 'Bridging the Digital Divide' is the Goal Published: November 21, 2010 | By: Valerie Zehl Christie Zwahlen is helping to build a bridge that will span "the digital divide." "Information technology has become such an important part of the way we live our lives that people who are stuck on the underside of the 'digital divide' are prevented from competing in the mainstream economy and participating fully in society," Zwahlen said. Modeled after Broome Community College instructor Gary Kohut's project of refurbishing computers for a center serving at-risk youth, "Bridging the Digital Divide" will launch this spring. It will use volunteers from Binghamton University and BCC to teach and tutor; revamp used computers; and create databases and websites for local non-profit groups. "We'll be getting a big donation from eco International that will kick-start our program with enough computers," said Zwahlen, 26 and an AmeriCorps Vista member. She works alongside Dr. Allison Alden, director for BU's new Center for Civic Engagement, which works to address specific inadequacies and inequities in the community. "One of the reasons I think it's so exciting is that people always discuss ways we can work around the edges to help populations who have less access to computers, such as more computers in the library," Alden said. "It's different to say we're going to provide people with computers, not just the hardware but the skills they need." It's a win-win initiative that's also good for the environment, she noted. "These computers are essentially trash to some people, and here we now have a mechanism to turn them into gold for other people," she said. They're looking for more volunteers, as well as donations of keyboards, monitors, mice and used computers less than five years old, which will have their hard drives cleaned with military-grade software from the U.S. Defense Department.

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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference Donate Your Old Computer to Bridge the Digital Divide Aired: January 18, 2011 | By: Carmen Perez IPads, Kindles, Netbooks. With each new technological advance we make, the gap between those who use technology and those who don't grows wider. It's called the digital divide. Our Carmen Perez tells us about a new project at Binghamton University aimed at making sure everyone has access to information technology. It used to be that having a computer was a luxury, but it seems now it is a necessity. Christie Zwahlen, the BDDP Coordinator, said, "Technology is such an integral part of our lives, I mean the way we work, the way we communicate." So that is why a new project is underway at Binghamton University to help Broome County's residents catch up. Program coordinators say that the digital divide isn't just a term, it is an actual problem and the longer it goes ignored, the wider the gap is going to grow. "There are so many people out there that you know don't have access to computers, don't know how to use them and the world is moving so quickly and they just don't have time to catch up," said Zwahlen. Beginning this semester, The Bridging the Digital Divide Project will work with ten community organizations to take old donated computers, refurbish them and give them to local organizations and people. And students will be doing all the work. Sue Tiffany of Broome-Tioga BOCES said, "If we could spark just one student, two students, you know, and really light up their life that I know how to repair a computer, I rebuilt a computer, I want to do this for a living, I think we would be successful." Eco-International, an e-recycling plant in Vestal, will take donations of old computers for the project. The company makes sure all personal information is wiped clean before the computer is sent to be refurbished. Heather Palmer, of Eco-International said, "If any information is at all remotely traceable, that hard drive gets physically destroyed. We take data security very seriously." So if you've got any old computers lying around, recycling them may just help someone in your community has a brighter tomorrow. The project will be having a kick-off computer donation drive Wednesday from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Binghamton University's East Gym Parking lot. If you can't make the drive, you can also make donations on weekdays at Eco-International. They are located at 200 Stage Road in Vestal. They will take donations from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference

WIVT/WBGH NewsChannel 34 Report BU’s Computer Recycling Event a Success! Aired: January 19, 2011 About 18,000 of e-waste was collected Wednesday over at BU. It was an electronics recycling event that will benefit a variety of people including those who don't currently have computers. The electronics items will be used as part of the Bridging the Digital Divide Project, which is an effort of Binghamton University, BCC and 10 community organizations. They collect used computers and students refurbish them for people who need them. Christie Zwahlen says, "I think it's important to note how many populations are really benefiting from this program. It's not just youth. It's immigrants, refugees, the unemployed and the non-profits that serves them." About 150 vehicles dropped off electronics Wednesday. The Bridging the Digital Divide Program will also help provide IT assistance in the forms of website help and information management to non-profit organizations. Another benefit is that the computers won't end up in the landfill.

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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference Volunteers Featured in BU's Photo of the Day | Published: January 19, 2011

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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference

Another chance available for some at Whitney Place Press & Sun-Bulletin Newspaper | April 23, 2011 Redemption is a word of the season. At Whitney Place, it's the word of the day, of the hour, of the minute. The new $1.6 million supportive residence in Binghamton's East Side, under the umbrella of Syracuse-based Rescue Mission Alliance, puts a roof over the heads of men who have none. Even more important, it offers them a cocoon in which they can morph themselves from the unworkable old into the new. They can't just walk in off the street and claim rights to a bed, and convicted sex offenders or arsonists won't find a place here. "It's not a designated emergency shelter," explained Paul LaDolce from the Rescue Mission's home base in Syracuse. "We take referrals." Everyone who lives at Whitney Place must be committed to addressing the problems that lead to homelessness. "Our ultimate goal is for the guys to become productive members of the community," said Donor Relations Representative Rebecca Rathmell. "The guys need time to settle, to get stability. The first six months you work on yourself, then you start looking for a job." By the time they've earned the privilege of occupying one of the 32 beds and living spaces, they've already scaled mountains of emotional and psychological distance from their lowest points, often coming here after successful medical detox. Their former professions -- as housepainters, cooks, state employees -- are likely distant memories. They had friends and families, too, but relationships suffer from the voracious black vortex that characterizes whatever led to homelessness. LaDolce has seen it happen to all sorts of people in upstate New York. "Some had master's degrees and held down really good jobs but their issues got a hold of them and trapped them," he said. "So their lives ebbed away." David Scanlin grew up in Endicott, where he says he started selling cocaine at age 15 so he could get some for himself -- and he used it in ever-increasing amounts for 17 years after that. He's only 32, so that means he has been using for more than half of his life, even while he worked as a professional painter. He racked up felony charges and opted for treatment, then Whitney Place, shortly after it opened. Jason Cohn, too, was given the grace to choose treatment over prison, and he came to Whitney Place on Dec. 16. At 33, he grew up in Binghamton's East Side and worked for the state at the Broome Developmental Center for 10 years as a therapy aide, he said. Now, he's looking at entering Broome Community College in the fall, possibly aiming toward a career in forestry. Both must walk a tight line in accordance with the mandates of the Binghamton Adult Drug Treatment Court, which permitted Whitney Place as an option to incarceration. The mandate from that court is to assist alcohol- and drugaddicted defendants and their families in breaking the cycle of addiction and criminal activity. Constant drug tests complement a regimen of activities to help them emerge from this Whitney Point chrysalis ready to fly.

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The Center for Civic Engagement Make Connections & Make a Difference It's not only addiction that brings men here, though. Some have mental illness, physical disabilities or other special needs; some have what LaDolce calls "life control issues." From the minute they walk in the door, staff tries to give them the vision of walking out and into new lives. They can stay as long as they need to, but being independent and self-reliant is the goal for each of them. The professionals there champion each man on his journeys to a fruitful life. They'll drive him to Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, to counseling and medical appointments, to City of Binghamton Drug Treatment Court and its complementary urine tests, and to church, if they want to go. Cohn and Scanlin attend one, sometimes two, support groups a day. They live upstairs in two of 11 private rooms, and brew morning hazelnut coffee and cook their meals in the shared kitchen. Downstairs is a 22-bed dormitory, dining room/chapel, private areas for families to gather and rooms to dispense medications and offer job and life skills training. Staff guide the men into classes where they can "bridge the digital divide" by learning computer competency, or how to read, write, cook or to write a resume -- thanks to partners in the community, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension and Binghamton University Center for Civic Engagement. Because the site opened only a few months ago and started allocating beds at the end of October, they're still lining up volunteers to teach other skills to the men. Several local congregations -- such as Grace Baptist Church, West Chenango United Methodist, First Assembly of God, Calvary's Love and Unitarian Universalist -- as well as local restaurants and caterers send food or come to prepare complete meals for the men, Rathmell explained. But the guys have chores for as long as they call this place "home." Albert Goodrich, 56, can usually be found at the kitchen sink. "One day I decided after 43 years I should stop drinking," he says, hands in the dishwater. He's one of several veterans there, having learned aviation electronics in the Navy and using those skills at GE, IBM, Singer-Link and elsewhere, he said. Al Ortiz is program manager at the Whitney Avenue facility. His heart hasn't been so toughened by hard-luck stories that he won't stop to listen to another. "Most of the guys we attempt to help here have had really tough situations," he said. "They're loved from the minute they walk in the door. No one judges them for that they did -- and they tend to treat people the same way." This enterprise is new in the city and the county, and even with guidance from Rescue Mission staff who've worked in similar facilities in Syracuse, the crew and residents here are feeling their way to mutual success. "We learn from each other moving forward," Ortiz said.

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