Jill Palzkill Woelfer, a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington Information School, has lived in the University District since 1995. Since that time she has noticed a disconnect--despite the prevalence of digital technology, the homeless youth in the area don't have the skills needed to utilize it.
While many can claim that computers have assisted them in their interactions with employers and schools, homeless youth (of which there are an estimated 200 to 300 in the University District on any given night) may be less prepared to use these tools, creating a barrier for getting a job. "The world has changed," Jill said. "You don't even have an opportunity in lots of employment situations to meet someone in person and give them your resume anymore."
In 2008, Jill and colleague David Hendry, an associate professor at The Information School, co-created a community technology center through a partnership with Street Youth Ministries and a $35,000 state grant. The center offered computer-related life skills classes designed to engage and educate street youth about using technology to help them find a job.
The classes helped the youth develop their resumes, search for jobs and manage their online identities. "Each step was done with consideration of what it means to have to do these things through computer mediation," Jill said. In the course of 14 months, over 100 youth went through the class, which met twice a week for six to eight sessions.
Now, David and Jill are working on research that will lead to the creation of a web application to help youth find local employment. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the project was launched in 2010 and will run through 2013. Speaking of the impact of the community technology center, David adds, "The kind of dialogue and the kind of communication that the class was able to create among young people -- our partner sees as a really terrific sign."