Boys & Girls Club opens computer center

Edgewood group receives $223,000 to buy machines

May 30, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Although it is best known for its sports activities, the Edgewood Boys & Girls Club is as likely to produce a new wave of computer fanatics as it will baseball and basketball stars.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, helped ensure this last week when she visited the 826-member club to officially open its computer and technology learning center.

The center features 12 state-of-the-art desktop and 20 laptop computers that were purchased with a $223,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"It was a godsend," said Donald W. Mathis, executive director of the club. "No other computer center in any other Boys & Girls Club in the country, or at least in Maryland, will come close to this one. We have equipment that will knock your socks off."

Mathis said the computer center at the Edgewood club is an attempt to eliminate "the great divide between the haves and the have-nots, kids that have access to computers and those that don't."

He said that at school, many children may get to the computer one day a week for 30 or 45 minutes.

"Our goal is to make learning more fun and to encourage kids to do better in school," he said.

On Thursday afternoon, when the club was primarily serving elementary school pupils, there were just about as many children in the computer room as there were in the gym shooting basketballs.

Seven-year-old Marcus Deloach, a second-grader at Edgewood Elementary School, said he was impressed. "Yeah, it's fun," he said. "I can get the Cartoon Network and play computer games."

Victoria Kallaher, 9, said she comes to the club almost every day to use the computers. "It's pretty much fun," said the Edgewood Elementary third-grader. "This is better than my parents' computer at home."

Victoria said she enjoyed the computers' science and math programs. "It makes learning a lot more fun," she said.

"Without the computer here, I would be sad and miserable," said Shawn Smith, 7. "I don't have a computer at home," the Edgewood Elementary second-grader said. "The games are fun."

More than games

It's more than games that occupies club members' time.

Mark Heil, the club's information technology director, said children as young as 9 are building tiny robots and writing the computer programs needed to make the robot perform tasks.

"The kids are learning the programming language that is very similar to that used in the big industrial robots," he said.

"The Harford County Boys & Girls Clubs are teaching our kids the skills they need for successful lives," Mikulski said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.

The senator said, "Access to technology is so important to give our children the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century."

Wireless system

Mathis said the federal grant also covered the cost of a wireless system that enables children to use the laptops anywhere in the club, even while sitting in the bleachers in the gym.

He said the club had been getting by with computers that had been used at the 2000 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. "They were donated to us. Some were in better shape than others. Some were nearly hammered to death," Mathis said.

He said the new computers also enabled the club to qualify for $150,000 worth of software from Microsoft Corp.

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