Friday, February 06, 2009

What Would My Mom Think? Written by Jim K. CTI Volunteer Instructor

Written by Jim K. CTI Volunteer Instructor

This article was written by Jim when he first started volunteering in CTI.

Simon, [former supervisor in the Computer Learning Centre (CTI)], gives me my first briefing on computer training at the Drop-In. He warns me that the backgrounds of the clients will be all over the map. We’ll have folks finding their way around the keyboard for the first time sitting next to one-time programmers dusting off partly forgotten skills. Some will be young and some old enough that they completed school without ever seeing a computer. We’ll talk to men and to women. Attitudes to computers will range from cyberphobia to my own like-hate dichotomy.

During the Depression my Mom taught in a one-room school at an out-of-the-way spot on the prairie a hundred kilometres from here. Her clients were farm kids of all ages from the surrounding district. Some of their families weren’t able to send them off with much of a meal for lunch or clothes that provided real protection from the winter cold spells.

The teacher’s job was to pass on some book learning the kids could make use of in their daily lives. She also provided a lot of what they learned about the world beyond their horizon and their places in it.

I’ve just parachuted into a one-room school in the eye of the economic storm that’s boomtime Alberta.

My first placement is in the Career Training Initiative. The CTI program is three intensive weeks of life skills workshops, computer training and earning industry certifications. Two afternoons each week are devoted to computer skills.

The 3 Rs of our computer curriculum are the Internet, word processing and spreadsheets. Twenty years of corporate cubicle time have given me enough exposure to these that I should be able to help out. I’ll work with Erika, [former CTI instructor].

The Internet is important because it’s the place to search for jobs and because email is vital for timely communication with prospective employers. On the first afternoon Erika walks through getting Yahoo [now gmail] mail accounts for those of us who don’t have them. After that, we compose some emails and send a blizzard of them to each other. I head home to practice my new skills.

The next afternoon I tell Shen-wei (former program manager) and Erika that I’ve been practicing and I think I can do some of the presentation myself. They think that’s a fine idea. Very encouraging! Which part of the show will I get to do? Erika sets up the laptop for me, wishes me well and leaves.

I’m soloing!

Today is the day we receive email. We log in and look at what Yahoo has done with the mail we sent. We start with the folders for different kinds of mail. One folder is the resting place for mail Yahoo considers to be spam.

Ryan speaks up. “What’s spam?” Ryan is the canary in the CTI cyber coal mine. He follows every word and instantly signals his puzzlement when something new to him comes up.

“It’s email people receive promoting things they usually don’t want.”

“Where does it come from?”

“Some people send out millions of emails to people they don’t know.”


If you send out enough emails trying to sell things or scam people, you get enough replies to make a lot of money.”

“Will we learn how to do that in this class?” Ryan asks hopefully.

Erika’s back in time to hear the last part of my lesson. Then we give some one-on-one attention as the clients work on the exercises. I’m pleased with the way things went and I fish for a compliment as Erika and I retreat down the hall. “How did I do?” “Very well!” she gushes. I continue on toward the elevator with some extra spring in my step. Note to self – don’t miss the next opportunity to give the same kind of boost to a client.

Once I’m in the swing of it, the course goes quickly. Erika and I each do one of the Microsoft Word sessions and one Excel. Before I realize it, all that’s left is the graduation ceremony. I’ve earned the chance to give my flock a handshake and congratulate them on a job well done. A couple of hints are enough to land me an invitation.

I join the small but enthusiastic group of well-wishers. As the valedictorian, Greg provides a quiet and dignified voice for himself and his classmates. His message is one of gratitude and optimism. Greg, you’re more than welcome. Let me take this opportunity to thank you and your fellow graduates and wish you all the best in the future.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The View From My Window -- Written By: Keri V.

Today I am at my desk watching a slice of life play out below me in one of downtown's busy back alleys. This particular alley that I have a bird's eye view of, is just a half a block from a Ministry that serves the homeless population, and directly behind a very large apartment building. Every day, from my quiet, peaceful and orderly place of work, I see many one act plays performed in the street arena below.

A couple of regulars arrive at the dumpsters across the way to dig for bottles, cans and any other useful items hidden among the trash. One man climbs into the big blue bin and finds a few cans that he will later redeem at the bottle depot. A homeless couple is rousted from a parking place by a couple of police officers; they have spent the night in the open air parking lot of the apartment building and now gather their belongings and head out for another day on the street. Some words are exchanged with the bottle collectors and an argument and much posturing and threatening body language ensues. The couple heads off down the alley, hurling rough words over their shoulders at the bottle collectors as they go. Another man comes up the alley and joins his two friends, they all share a cigarette produced from a hidden pocket, then they continue on their way.

From my window I can also see a brand new high rise condo under construction. The sun glinting off the shiny glass windows blinds me some days as floor by floor I watch the building rise to completion; homes that, even in our slightly depressed economy will still cost their owners hundreds of thousands of dollars. People park their vehicles in the lot below me and hurry off to important appointments, mostly oblivious to the lives being lived out right around them. The only time they pay attention is when they are accosted or inconvenienced by someone looking for a handout. Some customers tell us they feel unsafe if they have to walk too far to get to our store; the parking is less plentiful than usual in front because of construction and more expensive than ever. Some flee to the perceived safety and ease of suburbia with its stores and malls and "plenty of free parking."

I attended The Invisible Project the other night, a drama production that was part of One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo and the beginning of a yearlong project called "This Is My City". "This Is My City" is aimed at providing artistic activities for and by the homeless.

The Invisible Project brought home to all of us who attended that evening; that each homeless person is a human being with their own story and reasons for being where they are at this particular moment in time.

The homeless problem in our city is large and the solutions are not easy, sometimes it seems overwhelming. It's tempting to put the responsibility for the challenges onto the agencies working with the homeless, and the city, provincial and federal governments, after all, they are the experts. Sometimes we throw a little spare change in a hat or donate some items to a charity and continue to look away from the problem.

I'm grateful for the view from my alley window, it reminds me daily of how lucky I am and keeps me aware of a human problem that we all need to be part of the solution for.

Written by Keri V. Keri is a volunteer and donor at the DI.