ReStarting My Story: New Opportunities

ReStart has been a multi-faceted program, offering basic digital literacy skills training (basic computing – learning how to use the internet and send email) and all the way up to training and certification for professional employment.

 Graduates of the ReStart program come from all walks of life (many being single heads of households, veterans, individuals aging out of foster care and those in the reentry population) with a variety of desires and objectives they seek to accomplish. To understand what motivated participants to enroll and complete courses, I sat down with ReStart graduates Mr. Isaiah Hamin, Lisa Law and Diane Harris, to hear their journey through the program.  What I found - regardless of their goals, was that participation in ReStart has made an incredible impact on their personal lives. 

 Taking up a challenge...

My letter writing days are over, no love letter writing for me.  I know how to send emails.

Isaiah Abdul Raheem Hamin or Mr. Hamin as most of the community knows him by, is a regular resident of the MidTown Tech Hive. Stop by on a Monday morning and you’ll easily spot him wearing his headphones with his laptop open at one of the large tables. In his “office,” Mr. Hamin gets to work reading emails and reviewing his class notes.

Mr. Hamin is a Texas native who, after a brief stay in Cleveland years ago, came back and decided to make Cleveland his home. He’s an incredible story-teller with a great sense of humor.  After a long career in manufacturing and mechanical work, Mr. Hamin attended a community meet-up where he was challenged by a speaker to start learning how to use a computer.  

I was at a meeting where a speaker, someone I knew named Albert, was talking to a group of us men.  Albert had a career at a bank and knew a lot about computers.  During the meeting, Albert challenged us to learn how to use a computer.  He said, “A lot of brothers are afraid of the computer.”  I looked at Albert and thought to myself, “I know he’s not talking to me.

Mr. Hamin laughs as he recalls, “He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to everyone in the room, but I took that challenge personally and decided I was going to do it.”

Mr. Hamin attended a few courses at his community center where a strong interest developed, and he had this to say:

I took one of the basic classes that Albert was teaching. After that, when this place opened [The Midtown Tech Hive], I came over here and took the basic [digital literacy] class twice. When we graduated, they gave us a card that said that we could come every day between 8:30 and 5:00. All you have to do is come down and they will assist you.

Now that he’s got basic computing under his belt, we asked what was next for Mr. Hamin.  “I’m currently in a class trying to get certified.  I’m going to take the class again, even if I pass, to make sure I get a better handle on anything I may have missed.”  When asked what his long-term plans were with his certification, Mr. Hamin remembers a similar question that his nephew recently asked him.

I recently talked to my nephew on the phone and he asked me what I was going to do and was I going to fix computers?  I asked him how many computers he had in his house – he has two – so I told him I would stop by and fix his computers.  I think that’s what I really want to do – fix computers.  That might change, but right now, that’s my main focus. 

I like taking things apart and putting them back together.

In reflecting on the impact that digital literacy training has made on his life, Mar. Hamin responds: “It’s helped me a lot because there’s a lot of things that people do with computers that relate to everyday life.  My letter writing days are over – no love letter writing for me.  I know how to send emails!”

A Long Sought-After Opportunity...

I would like nothing more than to sit on this side of the desk and say to someone just starting the beginning of their journey, nine months ago, I was sitting exactly where you are...

 Connecting with one of our Restart program partners, the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (CEOGC), I arrived on-site to meet two participants who recently completed the Internet Core Competency Certification (IC3) course.  Creola Rice, CEOGC Workforce Development Program Manager, greets me and gives me a quick tour of the site – it’s a warm and inviting space.  After a few moments, we head to a meeting room and Creola introduces me to program participants, Lisa Law and Diane Harris.

 Lisa greets me with a shy smile and a soft voice – she’s relaxed but engaged; her fellow classmate, Diane Harris is warm, easygoing and very supportive.  Lisa, a native Clevelander, Collinwood graduate and mother of three children tells me:

I’ve always wanted to work for CEOGC, since I was 17.  Life happened though; I took a lot of detours and made some wrong decisions and it wasn’t working out for me.  I have an Associates Degree, but I was working a dead-end job and it wasn’t enough.  I wasn’t working in a field that I wanted to be in.  I left; I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do.

 When Lisa first received suggestions from a friend and case manager to see what programs were available at CEOGC, she hesitated.  However, with her case manager consistently prodding her, Lisa decided to go for it.

At first when I started out, I thought, “they keep calling you and this is what you wanted to do, so let’s go ahead and do this.”  But once I started, all the emotions from my younger days started flooding in – that desire to work for CEOGC.  So I really dug in.  So far, I have taken the Customer Service training program, the MOS program (Microsoft Office Specialist), career preparedness, and I’m certified in customer service and the IC3 program.

Not only did Lisa’s commitment push her forward, but the sense of community that she and other participants and instructors developed, built a resilience in everyone involved.

 We had built such strong bonds, not just with each other but with our instructors.  They were not only instructors, but motivational people that motivated us to keep going.  If someone was late to class, classmates are calling to try to figure out if that person was okay.  The instructors will pull you aside, check on you and make sure you are doing okay.  If you are willing to put in the work, you will definitely succeed.  They won’t have it any other way.

Diane nods enthusiastically and adds,                                        

This group became family – we were a lot closer than our regular families.  We couldn’t have succeeded and completed what we have without the instructors.  Our instructors like Mr. Robinson and Mr. Allen are patient, and they take time with each of us, going above and beyond in providing motivation and encouragement.

 Diane is a retired teacher with an extensive background in social services and nursing; she has a passion for helping women and children and works with victims of domestic violence and substance abuse.  For Diane, digital literacy training provides her with an opportunity to give back to her community and keep active after retirement.  She responds:

 Last winter I got recertified as a chemical dependency assistant.  I retired from teaching, but I did not retire from giving back.  I’ve always been a caregiver.  I am currently taking care of both of my parents.  Being a caregiver isn’t easy, but the classes I’m taking here give me the time and space to make mistakes and learn from them.  Right now, I’m getting ready to take the A+ certification test and I’m really excited about that.

 So, what’s next after digital literacy courses are completed?

 Lisa passionately affirms,

Now that I’ve done it, I’m excited, I can’t wait.  I would like nothing more than to sit on this side of the desk and say to someone just starting the beginning of their journey, “nine months ago, I was sitting exactly where you are.  Not only did I get assistance, but I went through this program, this program and this program, and it has enabled me to sit here and give back to you – what was given to me!”

 Diane responds confidently,

 I plan on studying for the A+ exam and passing that exam.  After I get certified, I’m going to take some more computer classes – things like desktop publishing and graphics.  I want to get into graphic design.

 When asked what their response would be to someone considering taking digital literacy training but hesitating on doing so, they both agreed that anyone hesitating should act and take the opportunity.  Lisa advises with a smile, “Don’t be like me and wait, take the opportunity and go for it!”

 There are many organizations offering digital literacy training throughout the City.

For information on locations and how you can get connected, feel free contact us at media@digitalc.org.

Join our mailing list to read more ReStarting My Stories, receive our quarterly newsletter and keep up with other DigitalC news.