By: Karissa Gall
The 2012-13 Vancouver Community Network (VCN) Youth Initiative (YI) program held its final all-intern workshop on February 27 in the Woodward’s Building, bringing together the more than 30 Metro Vancouver youth who have been working at non-profit organizations based in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood all the way to Bowen Island since the beginning of fall.
Chris Puzio began the intern presentations by introducing his site, the LivingRoom Drop-In Activity Centre for the local mentally ill, and overviewing the work he has done there since he was hired in November.
In addition to refurbishing donated computers, Puzio said he has been providing computer and Internet support to users of the site, helping with everything from finding a pet to finding a job to finding a house.
“I’ve helped a lot of people,” he said. “I started from the ground-up, with writing resumes and then finding jobs. It was really empowering for some to use a computer for the first time.”
He said one client who received a refurbished computer even told him that being able to play online games has helped in his bid to stay clean and avoid relapsing into drug addiction.
“People in the Downtown Eastside often feel a lack of power and don’t have a lot of other people within their community to talk to,” said Puzio. “When you give them the time to talk to you, at the end of most conversations they say it’s really good to talk to somebody new.”
He added that through his internship experience he has “learned a lot about mental health.”
Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House intern Joyce Bermejo presented her “A Day in the Life of a VCN Intern” PowerPoint next, saying she “had never been to a neighbourhood house before” and has also learned a lot since beginning her internship in October.
She said that based on the “our house is your house” motto at Mount Pleasant, her twice-weekly drop-in computer and Internet classes became “like a family in a way.”
“After six months, I’ve realized that it’s more than just teaching computers, it’s almost like a family,” she said. “You really get to know the clients on a really personal level.”
Bermejo said the majority of her students are seniors, and that seeing their interest in learning new skills such as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and email has inspired her to “never stop learning.”
“One of my students is Norma, she’s an 84-year-old woman and she’s so eager to learn,” said Bermejo. “She loves using PowerPoint. It’s really rare to see someone at that age so eager to learn.
“Growing up with technology and being used to it, I took it for granted,” she continued. “Having the opportunity to teach has really taught me that I shouldn’t get tired of learning.”
After Embers communications intern Cassie Dixon and Urban Native Youth Association intern Ben Gonzales described their respective work experiences, 411 Seniors Centre Society intern Lynda En took the floor, saying more about how seniors are uniquely affected by the digital divide.
En said she has been teaching basic computer and Internet lessons to seven regular senior students and some drop-ins, and that while some had exposure to computers prior to attending her class, some were “true beginners.”
“Some of them are 85 and they have never turned on a computer before; in fact it’s even hard for them to find the power button,” said En. “They don’t know the jargon. If you say, ‘choose an option’, they will choose it in their head they won’t actually click on it, so you have to be really specific about how you instruct them.”
En, who is TESOL certified, said she used the “P-P-P” or “present, practice and produce” teaching method and a “mixed style” to engage her students. She said she also found that using parallels, such as comparing a website to a building or a website address to a building address, was effective in teaching “true beginners” about computers and the Internet.
Before Megaphone vendor coordinator intern Jessica Hannon closed the workshop by describing her work “growing and supporting the vendor base that (they) have” and sharing a story about a vendor who now successfully sells the magazine on the same corner he once panhandled on, Lookout Society intern Faiza Khalil reflected on the importance of the “small successes” that interns such as herself have been making all year.
“To me, successes include building trust with tenants,” said Khalil. “It was my job to connect with the tenants on a personal level, it wasn’t just about computers.
“If I can manage to have someone know how to use a mouse, that’s a success to me,” she continued. “They build confidence and they’re productive in their day, they feel like they have a purpose and that VCN and the staff believe in them, that we don’t feel like they’re wasting our time, even if it’s just to learn how to click.”