Technology Center Aims to Close 'Digital Divide'

Times Staff Writer

A computer center that opened Thursday in the northeast San Fernando Valley is more than just a place to type a resume.

The Pacoima Community Technology Center offers training for medical office jobs as well as online college classes for adults and computer instruction and homework help for children.

The center houses the Valley Family Technology Project, a $3-million government-industry partnership launched in October 2001 to help close the so-called "digital divide" in the community.

"We're in the heart of Pacoima, where many people who face obstacles to employment live," said Mario Matute, director of the project.

The center, at 13630 Van Nuys Blvd., is two doors down from the office of Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla, who was one of the driving forces behind it.

The facility has a lab with 20 laptop computers and 22 flat-screen desktop units, plus three additional computers for area residents who want to write e-mail or surf the Internet.

Converting and furnishing the former discount store cost $270,500, said Dixon Slingerland, director of the Youth Policy Institute, a nonprofit agency that runs the Valley Family Technology Project.

At the new center, adults training for a medical office career will complete three months of English, math and computer classes before taking on a three-month paid internship at a local hospital.

Leyda Carrillo, who began studying this week at the center, called the facility "a safe, comfortable place to be."

"Everything is brand-new," said Carrillo, 23, who wants to become a licensed vocational nurse. "They want to help you. They talk to you and are really familiar with you."

In addition to job training, the center offers online courses through Cerritos College for 45 adults who are working toward high school diplomas or simply want to further their education.

Beginning Feb. 18, the center will have a free after-school program for youths struggling in the classroom. And later this year, computer and literacy courses will be offered for seniors.

The center, which has bilingual instructors and materials, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The phone number is (818) 899-5550.

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