This program is run through the University's Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center and was launched with the aid of federal funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. It supports 12 new or enhanced community based public computer centers for underserved populations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Unlike computers in public libraries, there is no time limit on the use of BAP computers, and a trained apprentice is on hand at all times to provide personal, one-on one-help to users. Because leaders of the project understand that computer adeptness has become a key job skill, the development of computer literacy through education is an important aspect of the BAP. Group classes targeting all levels of proficiency are offered at the larger BAP computer labs. These classes cover topics regarding Microsoft Office, financial support, social media for business use, and even Internet programming and design. Since 2009 the BAP has opened doors for community members to develop the technological skills needed to succeed in today's times.
After visiting the BAP computer lab in the Hmong American Partnership building and talking with University of MN employees there as well as computer users, it is clear that these centers are providing tangible aid to those who seek the resource. The clean, well-organized room is home to 13 up-to-date computers with high-speed Internet capabilities. Before logging onto the Internet, first time users must complete a short survey with questions relating to their demographics. Signs decorate the walls: some laying down rules in order to keep the lab efficient, others listing employment resources and encouragement. Light floods the room from large windows and reflects the overall sense of support and productivity.
In an interview Ka Vang, the BAP apprentice running the lab explains how, through her job at the lab, she is able to help people support themselves with aid from the Internet access. "When clients come in I talk with them and ask them what kind of help they need for the day," says Vang. This kind of personal attention and help is what sets BAP centers apart from other public computer centers. The focus at this center is primarily job search. Vang explains that, "If clients that come in need help with a resume I'll show them Microsoft resume layouts." But, Vang's help extends beyond just showing clients the tools. Since many of the computer users speak minimal English, Vang will help them word-by-word to commutate their skills in a professional resume. Some clients need help with unemployment benefits as well. Vang also understands the importance of users learning more than the tasks she aids them with in the center. "I try to recruit most of the clients in for technology training that might help them in the future," says Vang, referring to the free classes offered through the BAP.
Computer users are quick to endorse how great of a resource the BAP center is. Pao Vang, a regular at the Hmong American Partnership Center comes in day after day to search for jobs using online resources. "You can find anything you want on a computer," he insists. Another young woman, Va Vang had recently been laid off from her job, but the access to these computers inspires her to come back and look for a new opportunity. Dan Huynh, a team leader and technical trainer for the program, was also at the lab fixing a few glitches on a computer. He talked briefly about how exhilarating it is to see the lab make big changes in peoples lives, "folks apply for jobs, and sometimes they're here for weeks and then they'll finally get one, so it's a really exciting time."
It's wonderful to see that such an encouraging, advantageous tool exists for underserved populations of the Twin Cities metro. These centers help people to develop a strong work ethic and help them to realize that it is important to develop oneself to meet the demands of today's lifestyle, all while providing the tools to do so. To learn more about the BAP project, or to find a center near you visit www.bap.umn.edu.