By Daniel Perez-Crouse
With funding from Verizon, and the support of other community organizations, Hacienda CDC has opened three free learning and tech centers to offer digital access and workforce development. They say local communities will have access to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education, digital literacy and entrepreneurial learning for visitors of all ages in Portland.
Portland joins Pittsburgh, Houston and Cleveland as cities chosen by Verizon’s Community Forward initiative, with its purported goal of providing under-resourced populations with the skills they need to prepare for tech-oriented jobs–or ones where technologies are frequently used.
For this initiative, Verizon partners with an organization ingrained in the landscape of a particular city to expand its existing infrastructure of a local community support space. For example, in Cleveland, Jumpstart worked with Verizon to open two learning centers.
In Portland, Hacienda was chosen to lead. Formed in 1986, Hacienda CDC is a Latino Community Development Corporation that aims to provide affordable housing, homeownership support, economic advancement and educational opportunities. They have 11 affordable housing locations throughout the Portland Metro area. Their roots are in the NE Cully neighborhood, which has been home to some of the largest Latino populations in Portland.
These centers are outfitted with emerging technologies (3D Printers, Glowforge Laser Engraver, prototyping tools, etc.) and powered by 5G to ensure participants have access to next-gen learning. There will also be an assortment of laptops, tablets, DSLR cameras, portable audio recording equipment and traditional writing materials for people to use.
The centers advertise a variety of learning benefits including how to use new technology, tips on producing a podcast or creating videos that help support a business. K-12 students can explore STEAM activities and new technology to connect to higher education opportunities. Adults can build digital literacy skills, find out about workforce development and entrepreneurial programs and apply for opportunities online.
Hacienda noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the challenges low-income families face by not having internet at home or laptops, desktops and tablets—which heavily limits their ability to succeed and function in today’s technology-dependent world. As stated in their press release, Hacienda’s hope with these new centers is to “decrease barriers between low-income Portlanders and tech resources they need to succeed in a digital world.”
CEO of Hacienda CDC, Ernesto Fonseca, said that “More than 60 percent of the families Hacienda serves in its affordable housing programs access the internet only through their smartphones. That’s a huge barrier when you’re trying to participate in school, fill out a job application or manage your business only through your phone.”
Hacienda is also partnering with organizations like Oregon State University, FreeGeek, Portland Community College (PCC), Portland Public Schools and Day One Tech to provide classes and materials. For example, their website advertises that Free Geek will be offering free laptops and introductory digital literacy classes to “first-time computer users.”
The centers will be operated by Hacienda in partnership with local, community-based groups–depending on their area and location–like Home Forward, POIC and more. The NE Portland tech center will be located in the Cully neighborhood, on the first floor off of Hacienda’s headquarters (it’s also near Las Adelitas, Hacienda’s newest and most modern-looking housing project).
A second location will be at the New Columbia campus of Portland Opportunities in the North Portland Industrialization Center Camp and Rosemary Anderson High School. A unique aspect of this location is a professional-level audio recording studio that includes a full mixing board and two soundproof rooms. PCC’s SE Campus in the Jade District will be the site of the third location.
Hacienda advertises that the learning centers will be free spaces open to schools, community groups and the public. More information about the spaces can be found at haciendacdc.org/community.