A former gang member, last year Ismael decided that it was time for a change.
“I was a mess, but I had to get away from selling drugs and the gang,” said the Humboldt Park resident. But finding another way to support himself proved difficult—Ismael struggled to find an employer that would take on a new employee with a criminal record.
Things began to turn around for Ismael the day he walked into Association House, a community center and Connect Chicago location serving West Town, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Avondale and Hermosa.
Under the guidance of Tech Center coordinator Stephen Pigozzi, Ismael started free computer classes, earning his Microsoft Office® certification. He was later steered toward the Transitions to Careers Program, in which nonviolent ex-offenders receive job training and counseling to help guide them back into the workforce. Through the Transitions program’s partnership with Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department, Ismael built his resume and skill set.
With new technology training, Ismael applied and was hired for a job at Skyline Design, a local firm that designs and produces innovative architectural glass products, mirrors, and furniture.
The Tech Center at Association House is impressive—56 computers are available to the public, as well as training and open lab time three days a week during which anyone can receive help with writing a resume, searching for a job and doing homework, or get help troubleshooting a technology issue.
Four and six week courses in Microsoft Office software earn graduates like Ismael Microsoft Office certification. The courses at the tech center not only prepare students to pass the Microsoft certification exam but also teach people to become proficient in the programs in a practical way to make it easier for folks to succeed in a field using office technology. The course also covers professional formatting of documents including emails, resumes, reference sheets and cover letters. In February the tech center will also begin to offer basic computer education courses in both English and Spanish.
Pigozzi, who grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in Wicker Park, has been with Association House since 2011. Beginning his position as the technology coordinator last summer, Stephen is just one of the hundreds of Chicagoans helping to bridge the digital divide in the city by providing tech services at community centers, libraries, city colleges and social service agencies alike.
His time in Humboldt Park working with clients like Ismael has shown him that the digital divide is a very real thing, one exacerbated by disparities in socioeconomic status.
“Working in Association House Tech Center has been very inspiring and rewarding for me on a personal and professional level,” said Pigozzi, who believes that that all people in our society should have access to the technology resources and knowledge. “One of the most important things to bring to a community like Humboldt Park is tech-based workforce development. Association House’s tech programs are very effective at accomplishing this goal and I am proud to be a part of that.”