Rainier Vista Jobs Plus
brings job skills to immigrants
No matter how you pronounce it, "Good Luck" means encouragement. And that is the message conveyed as you walk through the door of the Rainier Vista Jobs Plus computer lab. Glance up, and you'll see that sentiment in at least 20 languages, plastered across the walls of the lab. The signs were created by lab users to make all who enter feel welcome, valued and respected.
Rainier Vista Jobs Plus serves a diverse, low-income community composed, mostly, of ESL refugees and immigrants, ages 10 to 84. Native languages include, among others, Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromo, Somali, Arabic, Kiswahili, Vietnamese, Khmer, Hmong, Thai and Chinese.
The lab is part of Rainier Vista, a 496-unit garden community housing project, with approximately 1200 residents. Of these, about 216 households speak no English. Their average yearly income, $10,898.
Its computer lab, open five days a week, is in the Jobs Plus office. The lab features eight networked computers and a server, plus one "stand-alone." Soon, there will be an Apple G4, to be used for graphics, a video editing station and related training.
The lab, for the past five years, has been run by the Rainier Vista Leadership Team (RVLT), a non-profit residents council. RVLT works to implement community improvement initiatives, raise funds for operational expenses. Its members act as role models in the areas of work, self-reliance and community participation.
Since its inception in 1998, Rainier Vista Jobs Plus has matched more than 200 jobs with resident job hunters. First matched to entry level jobs, workers are next encouraged to focus on landing career path jobs with increased pay and benefits through the Job Upgrades program. Career path jobs require computer skills.
A Unique Community
Seventy-five percent of the participants are women, because computing is equated with clerical work in many countries represented at the center. Clerical work is seen as "women's work."
"The few adult men who show up are likely to want to learn accounting software," said Technology Coordinator Rhonda Allison.
Because of this resistance, residents are offered a two-year rent freeze or rent reduction for enrolling at Jobs Plus.
Youth are the most prevalent lab users. During this writer's visit, several Southeast Asian teens were at the site, working on a very professional looking newsletter. They are part of Kids Promoting Assets Across Cultures (PAAC). A Cambodian youth group is working on oral history. They're acting out stories which they hope to produce for public access television. A Vietnamese group has the same idea, and is working on the boat people experience.
Because youth are such enthusiasts, special hours have been set aside at the center to ensure adult access to the technology.
Often, learners are illiterate. Most must begin with English as a Second Language (ESL). Because language and culture are significant barriers, teaching computer skills can require a kinetic approach. To illustrate the idea that striking a key will produce a letter on the screen, Rhonda literally guides their hands with her own for the first hour of training. Once they get the idea, mouse technique is demonstrated, then real keyboarding. Later, 30 minutes of keyboarding practice is required at each sitting.
"It's this one-on-one approach that makes the program so successful," according to Rhonda. "Tutorial-based training can be relatively useless in such a diverse atmosphere."
The center's approach is unique. Learners "graduate" when they are able to teach others what they've learned.
How They Learn
A few months ago, the lab upgraded its computers and added new MS Office 2000 software. There is now a faster Internet connection, provided by the City of Seattle Department of Information Technology through an agreement with AT&T. There's even a web-cam to be used in teaching video conferencing.
Residents ultimately use the computers to write resumes and cover letters. Each has a free e-mail account, and there is access to a telephone and fax to facilitate their job hunt. The Internet helps them to access job sites, newspapers from their homelands, and training opportunities.
At the same time, they improve their English skills. To get them comfortable with the computer, learners are encouraged to play games and use game-based tutorials, such as Talking Typing Tutor and Typing Quick and Easy. MS Publisher enables learners to make greeting cards for the people back home, and business cards, too. It's very popular at the center. MS Powerpoint enables users to create word and picture stories about their countries, culture or personal histories.
"A word processing program can be much too intimidating, at first. The graphics offered by Powerpoint are helpful in introducing learners to software, and provides the building blocks to gaining ESL skills," according to Rhonda.
The center is currently trying to attract donations of international fonts, so learners can better relate to what they're seeing on the monitor.
Rhonda expressed a need for volunteer managers at the center.
"Volunteer management is so time-consuming that the learners would be ignored if I were to take that on," she said. "We hope to first attract volunteer managers, then volunteers.
The center must focus on survival without grant dollars. Currently, it's funded by Seattle Housing Authority grants, neighborhood matching grants, a city technology grant, and it has applied for partnership with Seattle Public Schools.
Ideas for sustainability include the marketing of arts and crafts, foreign food catering, web development, multi-language word processing and desktop publishing. They also hope to land some work on Seattle Housing Authority projects. If you can help to develop a business plan or otherwise help to get these ideas rolling, manage volunteers, or contribute in any other way, please call Rhonda Allison at (206) 760-9513.