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Reddi for Action: Building a Digital Bridge
Ravi Reddi lives up to his name — he is ready to change lives. "How many lives have I changed today?" he asks. And the answer is: a lot.
Ravi is an AmeriCorps member serving with the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP). Most days you can find him working with a wide variety of clients at the Brian Coyle Center, helping older adults, new Americans and other community members learn technology skills to secure employment or improve academically.
Ravi balances a heavy load — he is a full-time student at the University of Minnesota and a full-time AmeriCorps member. Before he came to the Brian Coyle Center, the center didn't offer computer classes, because its technology was outdated and attendance was low. After investing in brand-new computers with the latest Microsoft applications as well as free wireless access, the center is bustling with community members eager to gain new skills.
Ravi knows how important his presence is to the community. Residents show up day after day to learn basic programs that will further their education and employability.
"My clients can bank on my being here to give them a one-hour tutorial," Ravi says. "They have so much on their plates and I'll be waiting here to help them with whatever they need — technological literacy and empowerment."
CTEP started in 2004 to teach technology literacy to a wide spectrum of individuals and focuses on both access and achievement. And its mission couldn't be more important: the current job market and educational systems are increasingly reliant on technology.
But here's the conundrum: broadband use by low-income families nationally has actually dropped since 2007, as many Americans have disconnected their broadband service during the economic downturn.
While this recent decrease in connectivity among low-income families has been the trend, there has conversely been an increased push for more and more services to be provided only online. To cut costs, many public- and private-sector services have moved from paper to electronic formats, and residents who need these services most are told to go online.
In partnership with nonprofits and community centers throughout the Twin Cities, 25 AmeriCorps members work side by side with nearly 4,000 adults and youth — exploring learning goals, teaching classes, and targeting training to the needs of their students. Members don't have to be IT professionals, but need to be comfortable with technology. It could be as easy as teaching clients how to use a free e-mail account or submit resumes online to prospective employers.
When asked how his clients would describe him, Ravi replied, "I would hope they would say that I helped them, that I've given them a permanent asset. And that's all I want — I want to give them a substantive capability that they didn't have before, no matter how small."
In a world where Blackberries aren't fruit, tweeting has nothing to do with birds and LOL doesn't mean Land of Lakes, Ravi and CTEP are bridging the gap. It's not just computer classes, it's helping people making substantive changes — they're getting jobs, improving academically and discovering all these resources that they never knew existed before," says Ravi. "It's incredible to see that evolution."