Cyber Monday took on new meaning for residents of Birmingham’s Titusville Community with the ribbon-cutting of a STEM lab at Memorial Park Recreation Center.
The six-computer lab is courtesy of a $10,000 contribution from DC Blox, which opened its data storage center across the street in July.
Jeff Uphues, CEO of DC Blox, said he wasn’t in charge of the scheduling of Monday’s event but is glad the day had finally arrived.
“So much of our lives are driven by technology,” Uphues said. “This is just an example and a testament to what’s going on in the community to Titusville, a testament to the city of Birmingham and then the county. Everything that’s going on here is wonderful.”
The STEM lab is the result of DC Blox’s desire to do something for the community. Access to computer hardware, software and instruction was determined to be what the area wanted to provide a boost to area youth. Uphues said more than 800 youth are estimated to live in the Titusville Community and as many as 4,500 are within walking distance.
While the STEM lab is aimed at aiding young children, the vision is broader, providing instruction to prepare young adults for the job market, for example.
Sheila Tyson was a member of the Birmingham City Council when Uphues asked her what the company could do for the community it was joining. She said she canvassed the area, surveying residents to determine what they needed.
“We know for a fact that they wanted jobs,” said Tyson, now a Jefferson County commissioner. “We had to craft out something to get them educated enough to apply and motivated enough to want to do it. In the middle of the night, it came to me: What about coding? Everyone is talking about coding, computer science and robotics.”
After getting an initial OK from DC Blox, Tyson reached out to local colleges and found willing partners for the project, which now includes Lawson State Community College, Birmingham-Southern College, Miles College and Samford University.
“They wanted to give us manpower,” Tyson said. “They wanted to give us professors that will volunteer to come out and get these young people who are over 18 certified to actually get jobs in coding. I just knew the vision that we had was possible.”
DataPerk is another partner in the project, managing the security of the devices and the software. Company president Troy Wallwork can relate with the youngsters whose eyes will be opened to the technology that is provided to them.
“I grew up in the Pinson/Center Point area and they bought one computer for our school when I was in second grade and I just loved it,” he said. “Every chance I got, I worked with it and ended up doing that for my career. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if someone hadn’t given me the same opportunity that I hope some of these kids see. It means a lot to create the same opportunities that someone created for me.”
Birmingham Urban League will organize all the classes that will take place at Memorial Park. Tawayna Jones, director of Memorial Park, said use of the computers has already begun. The formal program – including financial planning and tutoring – is set to launch in January.
Jones added her desire to have a program for senior citizens to learn basic computer skills. “Hopefully by January, we can get that on the road,” she said.
Also, Tyson expressed her wish to have two smart televisions installed at Memorial Park and a pair of computers at the Villas at Titusville, which was formerly the Loveman Village public housing community.