“To get free computer classes and a free computer is unheard of. I honestly didn’t believe it until I saw it.”
— Clarene Yonkers, a resident at Sunset Meadows in Craig, about the computer literacy Learn and Earn program sponsored by the Independent Life Center
Seven Sunset Meadows residents received an unlikely graduation present Wednesday in Craig — free computers.
The computers were the reward for the residents’ efforts in completing Learn and Earn, a free computer literacy program for senior citizens and people with disabilities sponsored by the Independent Life Center in Craig.
ILC has been providing classes and giving away computers at its office, 483 Yampa Ave., for years, but this year was the first time the organization was able to mobilize the classroom and bring the service to Sunset Meadows, a retirement community on Ledford Street.
BJ Stevens, a certified Microsoft refurbisher and assistant technology specialist for the ILC, has directed Learn and Earn for the last two years.
“This is the first mobile class to graduate,” Stevens said. “But, classes aren’t over. They have just reached the point where they can use a computer, so we’re giving each of them one to take home and use.”
To date, ILC has taught skills and provided free computers to 42 people.
Wednesday’s graduates enrolled in the program in May and attended classes once a week at Sunset Meadows.
“This is really a dream come true,” Stevens said about the mobile program. “I am really excited today.”
Stevens currently has four classes in progress, all of which are in different phases of the program. Each class has seven students.
Stevens said he’ll continue assisting students with computer skills for as long as they’re willing to participate.
Sunset Meadows resident Dottie Reynolds, one of Wednesday’s graduates, said she is looking forward to the next phase of computer classes. She is interested in creating an email account and learning how to use the Internet.
“I’m going to email my kids,” Reynolds said. “And tell them they don’t have any more excuses not to keep in touch.”
Clarene Yonkers, another graduate, said she was skeptical about the computer program until she saw Stevens arrive Wednesday with a van full of free computers.
“To get free computer classes and a free computer is unheard of,” she said. “I honestly didn’t believe it until I saw it.”
The ILC was launched 14 years ago in Craig with the initial intention of providing accessible wheelchair transportation to help disabled citizens shop for groceries and visit the doctor.
“That was huge for this community,” said Anna Adams, ILC board secretary. “In the past we had people traveling up and down Highway 40 in wheelchairs.”
Since its formation, ILC has evolved to provide cross-disability peer counseling, skills training for every day living, advocacy for self and others, as-well-as information and referrals.
ILC is a state-certified organization with the philosophy of “people with disabilities empowering others with disabilities to live independently.”
“In fact, 51 percent of our board must be made up of people with disabilities,” Adams said. “And I think all but one member of our staff lives with some kind of a disability as well.”
It is a well-respected organizational model, ILC Executive Director Evelyn Tileston said, and it has proved successful enough that ILC has expanded beyond the city limits of Craig to serve people in Moffat, Routt, Rio Blanco, Grand and Summit counties.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Adams said. “Learning how to deal with your disability, being a productive member of society and living life to its fullest.”
Programs like Learn and Earn are funded by a variety of state and federal grants, Tileston said.
“It’s because of programs like these that we are able to hire wonderful people like BJ,” he said. “He truly is one of the good ones.”
Tileston said Stevens told her Wednesday was one of the best days of his life, just behind the birth of his children.
“We’ve been offering classes and providing people with computers for about 10 years,” Tileston said. “Mobilizing the classroom was really BJ’s idea and he really took control of it.”
Tileston said computers Stevens uses for training purposes were paid for with grant money. The ILC depends entirely on donations from the community to provide free computers to clients.
Past contributors include Moffat County and Maybell Elementary School.
Now that Learn and Earn is mobile, Stevens said he is willing to travel almost anywhere to educate people on computers.
“But, the people we train must be clients of ILC,” Adams said. “There’s no cost, we just need to file appropriate papers with the state (to get people enrolled).”
Stevens said the ILC is in desperate need of flat screen monitors and laptops to accommodate 25 people currently on Learn and Earn’s waiting list.
Flat screen monitors are preferred because they are easier for people with vision problems to use, Stevens said.
For more information on Learn and Earn or to make a donation, call BJ Stevens at 826-0833, ext. 1005, or drop off unused equipment at 483 Yampa Ave.
For information on additional services provided by ILC or to register as a client, call the organization at 826-0833.
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