In Verizon's Family Friendly Computer Program, parents don't just go home with a new personal computer. They learn how to take it apart and put it back together, in addition to the basics of keyboarding and other skills.
"There are a lot of programs that teach you how to use a computer, but not a lot that teach you how to fix it if something goes wrong," said Rick Ricca, director of external affairs at Verizon's division in New Jersey.
The program, operated by the Paterson Education Fund and funded by Verizon, was founded in 1995, when the technological divide was especially great between middle-class and low-income families.
But despite the advent of smartphones and laptops, there are still many families in Paterson that have no home computer.
"Paterson is not a highly literate community. I'm still surprised when I walk into a classroom and ask how many students don't have a computer at home and some hands always go up," said Rosie Grant, program director at the Paterson Education Fund.
The program, which is held at the Totowa branch of the Paterson Free Library and Paterson School 5, focuses mostly on teaching technological know-how to parents, but children sometimes participate.
Since the program began, nearly 7,500 graduates have received training and recycled computers donated by the Christina Foundation. Verizon spends $5,000 to $7,500 annually on staffing the program, which enrolls about 350 students annually.
Teaching parents how to troubleshoot and tinker with the mechanics of computers is the best way of getting them more comfortable, said Grant.
"When they take it home, the fear factor is gone," she said.
In Paterson, 8 percent of residents are college graduates, and only 20 percent have a high school diploma, said Grant, citing school district statistics. More than half of the residents speak Spanish as their primary language. A home computer has made it easier for them to find jobs and help their children with homework, she said. Some graduates of the program have become trainers.
Tabitha Schweidereick, a Paterson mother, enrolled after her home computer crashed six months ago. Although she was already computer literate, she learned a lot.
"I've never opened up the inside of a computer - normally, I would just call for computer repair," said Schweidereick, who recruits other parents to attend classes at Public School 5. "It's been great knowing this."
The program is an example of Verizon's continued mission to increase literacy and technological knowledge in urban New Jersey. Verizon has given more than $150 million to New Jersey schools and public libraries as part of its efforts.
Family Friendly Computer classes are held at the library on Mondays and Thursdays from 1:30 p.m.-3 p.m. At Public School 5, classes are generally held Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6 p.m.-8 p.m.
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, NASDAQ:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving 94.1 million customers nationwide. Verizon also provides converged communications, information and entertainment services over America's most advanced fiber-optic network, and delivers innovative, seamless business solutions to customers around the world. A Dow 30 company, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of more than 194,000 and last year generated consolidated revenues of $106.6 billion. For more information, visit www.verizon.com.