Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Scott Belford, director of the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation, looks away as Nicole Nartates, 11, types her password into the new computer she acquired through her work with the foundation. Nicole attends Holomua Elementary School in Ewa Beach.

Equipped for success

Youngsters learn computer skills
and earn a free machine in a
class that taps their motivations

Scott Belford is on a mission: Show youngsters how to get what they want out of life by teaching them everything they need to know about using and putting together computers.

He teaches Computer Guts for free to nonprofit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii because he always wanted to be a teacher. Belford tells the youngsters the course could lead to the job of their dreams so they could afford that special car.

"Sixteen percent is giving someone a computer. The other 84 percent is building their self-reliance on sustainable skills that unlock so much potential that they never really knew they had," Belford said.

Two years ago, Belford started the nonprofit Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation, through which he offered a free recycled computer to any student who graduated from his class. He refurbishes the computers, discarded and donated by organizations and individuals.

Nina Jones, 11, acquired a new computer through her work with the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation. Nina, who goes to Ewa Beach Elementary School, knew nothing about computers before taking the class.

Most of his time is spent installing computer labs in schools, charities and churches free of charge, and teaching classes with volunteers. But Belford, formerly a computer systems director for a large business, is also committed to developing technology knowledge in the "most needy areas" of the state.

This week, he starts a course for 14 at-risk young men in Waianae who were eager to begin once they heard him ask, "What kind of car do you want?" He then outlined what they would have to earn per hour to get it.

"Giving them this opportunity -- that's the magic. Probably no one else has given them this opportunity and said, 'Keep your record clean, learn computer skills from me, build on these skills, and when you graduate from school you will have the opportunity to work the kind of job to pay for that Hummer you want.'"

Most recently he has been teaching a class of several 11-year-old girls at the Ewa Beach Boys and Girls Club who "really seem to relish it. They learn quickly."

"Whatever stereotype you have, whether it be age, gender, ethnic group or being from Ewa Beach, these young (girls) defy them," Belford said.

Two of them, Nicole Nartates and Nina Jones, were the first of the group to graduate last week.

Of the 40 children who have taken his class over the years, Nartates and Jones have been the most "tenacious" about sticking through the five-part class, which meets twice a week for two hours.

They finished the course in about a month.

Jones, who goes to Ewa Beach Elementary School, knew nothing about computers before taking the class, but things came "easy" for her. She wants to be a computer technician.

Nartates, who attends Holomua Elementary, wanted to take the class "because it was boring at home. I wanted to play games," but she was not allowed to use the computer at home.

Now her brother and two sisters want to use it and are going to the class, too.

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