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Lessons for Life

It’s yet another mercilessly hot July day in Chicago—the temperature hovers at 94 degrees outside—yet class is in session.

Clarence Hogan lets the students know about the Internet Essentials program to start the class.

Gordon Walek

More than a dozen local residents are sitting at computer workstations in Englewood’s FamilyNet Center at Kennedy-King College for a free, 90-minute course on Microsoft Word. Some of them are taking a Smart Communities Tech Training for the first time, others are regulars for the classes, which cover everything from computer basics to PowerPoint. In the five Smart Communities, there have been more than 7,000 instances of training since the program began.

Today’s course is sponsored by Comcast, which has partnered with the Smart Communities program to provide support for a set of trainings throughout the five neighborhoods in conjunction with Internet Essentials, the Comcast program that offers low-income families low-cost broadband service at a discounted rate of $9.95 a month. In its first year, Internet Essentials has signed up nearly 100,000 households nationwide.

Debra Marton, the manager for community investment for Comcast, said that the company has held hundreds of digital literacy trainings over the last year for Internet Essentials. As part of its strategy to add more families, Comcast is working with local providers who are doing their own training. With a reach into different neighborhoods across the city and a variety of local partners, Smart Communities has been a natural fit.

Marton appreciates how well the Smart Communities trainings are run. “They’re very informative,” she said. “I’m impressed by the ability of the trainers to engage the participants. The trainers seem very passionate about what they’re doing.”

Hogan’s easy-to-follow, entertaining way of leading the conversation is a big part of why the class is a success.

Gordon Walek

The training in Englewood certainly fit Marton’s description. Led by FamilyNet Center manager Clarence Hogan, the course followed the Digital 2.0 handbook, which goes step-by-step through key features of Word, such as the quick access toolbar, how to format a document and even the difference between delete and backspace.

The reason the students were so focused throughout the class, however, had a lot to do with Hogan’s easy-to-follow, entertaining way of leading the conversation. You wish your kids had a teacher as engaging and helpful as Clarence Hogan. At times funny and clever (“In order to affect, you must select,” he chanted several times to remind the students to highlight words to change fonts and size), he also brought home how to use Word in ways that were relatable yet never condescending, with examples from the cooking tools in a kitchen drawer to how to avoid “over accessorizing” text with too many design elements.

Most importantly, Hogan knew his audience and what they needed. For participants who are looking for work, the course is an opportunity to be prepared when they find an encouraging opportunity.

“In this recession, you can’t be taken out of the running even before your resume is even really considered,” Hogan advised, as he walked the class through how to use spell check and autocorrect.

Hogan also spent time talking about the importance of having Internet access, particularly for students and jobseekers. “It’s not just email,” he explained to the group. “There’s whole plethora of things you can use that are only available online.” He pointed out to the class that even word processing programs that provide the same type of options as Word can be found online, such as in Google Docs.

“Our trainings are designed to provide local residents with the tools they need to be successful in today’s world, which more than ever is a digital world,” said Dionne Baux, the program officer for Smart Communities at LISC Chicago. “We’re really pleased to have the support of Comcast for this set of trainings, because it allows us to work with more residents and to emphasize the importance of having broadband access in the home.”


Internet Essentials provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 (plus tax) a month; the option to purchase a full-service, Internet-ready computer for under $150 (plus tax); and multiple options for digital literacy training in print, online and in-person for qualified families. For more information, visit or call 1-855-846-8376.

Posted in Smart Communities News

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