In The News
CORE Skills: Computer Program Helps Residents Get Up to Speed
March 28, 2023
by Beth Lawton, Alexandria Living Magazine
Alexandria’s Computer CORE helps residents launch new careers and connections.
Most local school students are toting around Chromebooks, but there are thousands of Alexandria residents — often the parents of those very students — who don’t know how to use one themselves.
For these people, their lack of modern digital skills can hold them back from getting promotions, stable hours, or better jobs.
Since booting up in 1999, Alexandria-based Computer CORE has provided technology education to more than 5,000 people from 99 different countries of origin. More than 70 percent of its students are women and 95 percent are people of color.
Success stories abound
One of Computer CORE’s graduates, Aasia Haider, is now the organization’s finance and development associate. Haider emigrated to the United States with her husband in 2014 from Afghanistan, just after graduating high school. She trained in cosmetology in the United States, but with the birth of her first child, her salon hours were difficult to maintain. The Alexandria Workforce Development Center recommended Computer CORE to her, and after taking several classes, she interned for the organization. After extending her internship multiple times, the organization hired her.
Community Outreach and Student Success Manager Nagia Kurabi is also a Computer CORE graduate, as is Project Manager Nuria Azam. The organization’s news page includes more success stories of people who were able to exit their low-paying and unstable jobs thanks to their new skills. Some graduates got promotions in their field, including a preschool teacher who gained the confidence to go for a lead teacher position.
In addition, gaining these new digital skills allows graduates to reconnect with family members from afar adding to their overall quality of life, according to Executive Director Donna Walker James.
Changing with the times
James, who grew up in Alexandria and returned after college at the University of Pennsylvania, has worked in several nonprofit and service roles in and around Alexandria. She is Computer CORE’s third executive director and started with the organization in 2019 after a career that included positions at the Goodwin House Foundation, Senior Services of Alexandria, and Volunteer Alexandria, among other organizations.
Since its launch, Computer CORE has changed as much as technology has in the past two decades. While much of Computer CORE’s original programming consisted of computer basics, recent years have seen the addition of classes in internet security and privacy, social media, and Python coding.
Prior to the pandemic, Computer CORE offered all of its classes in person to local residents. Like many other organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a major pivot. The organization shut down — along with much of the rest of Alexandria — on March 13, 2020. It reopened just a month later to significantly higher demand. “Everything is a learning opportunity,” James said — and that was especially true for the staff, volunteers and students who needed to figure out an entirely new way of teaching over Zoom.
The pivot to online learning turned out to be a boon for the organization, which served a record number of students that year. The move eliminated the need for its adult students to find childcare and made its offerings more accessible.
The courses are entirely free to those who need help.
While the pandemic has mostly abated, Computer CORE is sticking to remote learning, recognizing that the ability to handle Zoom meetings is itself a skill that an increasing number of people need to have.
“Beyond computer skills, we’re really building confidence,” James said.
To wit, some of the newest classes offered during 10-week terms include English Conversation, Life Skills (which covers building confidence, setting and achieving goals, and developing positive beliefs), and Bridges to Success (which teaches online etiquette, digital collaboration, and Microsoft PowerPoint).
The organization also has distributed more than 1,500 refurbished computers to local residents at no cost. (In addition to offices at the co-working space ALX Community, Computer CORE has had a longtime home at Fairlington Presbyterian Church.)
In addition to providing computers and peripherals, Computer CORE volunteers run a technology help desk that operates in eight different languages. The help desk is staffed by current and former Computer CORE students and opened in 2022.
Interested in helping? Computer CORE relies on more than 100 volunteers per year doing everything from teaching to refurbishing computers, staffing the help desk and handling administrative work.
Learn more about volunteering at computercore: www.computercore.org/volunteer