For Edilzar Garcia, the American dream will be molded with a hot soldering iron.
But before he fulfills his lifetime goal of becoming an arc welder, the 25-year-old Guatemala native knows he must get and learn how to use a computer. So for 15 hours, Garcia gathered with other students, parents and adults in the library of East Lake Academy this fall to learn how to navigate the Web and develop basic computer skills.
For his efforts, Garcia and more than 140 other low-income Chattanoogans received computers under a unique program designed to bridge Chattanooga's digital divide.
Sign up for Tech Goes Home
The program is available to low-income persons willing to complete 15 hours of computer instruction, available in English or Spanish. Find out more at techgoeshomecha.org/course-locations-old.
"This is a dream come true," Garcia said while assembling slides on a laptop computer to demonstrate his passion for welding.
With the computer, Garcia hopes to eventually replace his construction job with a welding job by developing the skills and enrolling via computer in the courses necessary to improve his professional career.
The city of Chattanooga is trying to encourage such career and academic advancement for up to 2,000 low-income persons by the end of 2016 through its "Tech Goes Home Chattanooga" program.
Patterned after a similar, successful program in Boston, Chattanooga's Tech Goes Home is operated by The Enterprise Center and funded this year with $210,000 from the city of Chattanooga and $110,000 from Hamilton County government. The Enterprise Center has raised $440,000 of the program's $540,000 budget so far. That includes the money already raised by the city and county.
So far, Tech Goes Home Chattanooga has helped 140 people, including 99 families, get better access to technology and digital literacy skills. The program is being offered in 20 schools, libraries, churches and community centers this fall.
Upon completion of the course, participants have the option to purchase a new Chromebook for only $50. The program also helps interested families secure low-cost home Internet service through one of several available options.
EPB offers 100-megabit-per-second Internet service to low-income households for $26.99 a month — less than half EPB's current rate of $57.99 a month for 100 Mbps service.
Comcast offers a low-cost program for students on free or reduced-price school lunches for $10 per month. Called Internet Essentials, it also includes a deal on a desktop or laptop for $149.99 plus tax, which includes Microsoft Office.
Gwendolyn Moore, who took the Tech Goes Home course at Second Missionary Baptist Church last spring, said the program helped change her life.
"There's so many things you can learn from using a computer," she said. "I'm beginning to pay my bills online and doing research. I feel important."
Kelly McCarthy, the program manager for the technology training initative, said the program provides Internet literacy programs for all ages and helps those unfamiliar with computers and the Internet learn how to access needed equipment, connections and web services.
"We're served folks from ages 4 to 84," McCarthy said.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said the early success of Tech Goes Home is an important step in making sure all Chattanoogans enjoy the benefits of living in the "Gig City" in Chattanooga, the first North American city to gain community-wide gigabit-per-second Internet access.
"We want to be on the forefront of digital equity as a city," Berke said. "For many parents, not being able to use a computer means they can't help their kids at school, they can't connect to community events or they can't even apply for a job. This program gives people the chance to be a part of the 21st century economy and community life."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.