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Oct. 28, 2002 Contact: Nora Ardila, 255-0182

MAIN launches "Digital Literacy"

program aimed at Latinos

ASHEVILLE - For many residents of Western North Carolina, the Internet is a part of daily life. It helps to run businesses, deliver news and balance checkbooks.

But for one of our region's fastest-growing populations, much of the digital world remains inaccessible because of economic and language barriers. Though the Latino community has skyrocketed in numbers in western North Carolina over the past 10 years, there is a critical shortage of Spanish-language Internet training programs available to help this vital community contribute to the region's changing economy.

To help bridge this divide, the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN) is launching the Latino Digital Literacy Project, funded by a $20,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Internet Access Authority. The purpose of the project is to create a training program and Web site to help Spanish speakers use the Internet to enrich both their own lives and the communities in which they live.

"The Internet has so much to offer the Latino community, but too many people haven't been able to accept that offer," said Nora Ardila, director of MAIN's Latino Digital Literacy Project. "Our goal is to share the tools Spanish-speaking people need to make the most of the digital revolution."

The Latino Digital Literacy Project will work with local English as a Second Language (ESL) programs and other community organizations to host classes in basic computer and Internet skills, as well as more specialized topics such as media literacy and job skill development, Ardila said. Classes will take place in strategic locations throughout western North Carolina.

Under the LDL project, MAIN will also spearhead the creation of a new Web site that will offer training curricula online, while also providing links to other Spanish-language content. One significant aspect of this effort will be to bring the content of local Spanish-language newspapers online for the first time.

While MAIN and the RIAA have set the LDL project in motion, Ardila emphasized that more help from the community will be needed to make the program sustainable.

Volunteers will play a key role in designing and implementing the project, Ardila said. For example, a steering committee made up of Latino community leaders such as educators and social services advocates from across WNC will provide guidance on what should be included on the Web site and in the classes.

Community volunteers will also have a hands-on role in conducting training workshops for the general public and for people who will themselves go on to teach skills to others. Ardila noted that while volunteer trainers will need basic computer and Internet skills, they will not need advanced technical knowledge, nor will they need to speak Spanish, as volunteer translators are also being sought.

MAIN will provide Internet access for the classes and hosting of the Web site, but Ardila said the project still needs donations of functional Pentium-class computers for use by the students.

Finding locations for classes will also be important to the project's success, she added.

Ideally, those locations will be convenient to Latino communities and will have enough space to install several computers with access to a phone line. Ardila said MAIN also hopes to find locations to install public access terminals for the Latino community, which could host one or more computers.

The locations will not need to be open to the general public, but should be able to provide access to students and instructors in the evening hours.

Ardila said community centers in Latino neighborhoods would be excellent sites for training workshops. She said churches may also play a critical role in encouraging participation by the largest number of students.

"Churches have always been at the heart of the Latino community," Ardila said. "There are Spanish speakers living throughout western North Carolina who may not feel comfortable attending classes in a predominantly English-speaking public library, for example, but who would feel at home learning Internet skills in their place of worship."

With enough community support, Ardila said MAIN's Latino Digital Literacy Project should be ready to launch the Web site and begin training classes early next year. For more information, to volunteer or to make any donations, please contact Nora Ardila at 255-0182 or email END

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