Almost two years to the day after receiving a $1.2 million grant from the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee (HACM), the TechForce Training Center is open and training adults in basic and advanced computer skills.
The center officially opened Tuesday, May 24, and is connected to the Adult Learning Center located on Fourth Street on the St. Francis of Assisi Parish campus, Milwaukee.
According to HACM, the TechForce Training Center is “the result of a unique public/private partnership between HACM, Milwaukee Area Technical College, Employ Milwaukee (Milwaukee’s workforce investment board), the Adult Learning Center (ALC) and Milwaukee Public Schools.”
Since 1979, ALC has helped more than 350 adults gain basic academic skills necessary to earn a High School Equivalency Diploma or General Equivalency Diploma.
According to a press release from HACM, “The physical proximity between the programs at ALC and TechForce will create a synergy to help ensure that students keep moving up the educational ladder to their employment goals.”
This center will help prepare people for jobs requiring technological skills, said Capuchin Fr. Michael Bertram, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi.
“Everything is geared toward technology and there’s hardly a job that doesn’t have something technology-wise connected to it,” Fr. Bertram said. “I have folks coming to me who say, ‘I don’t have a computer. I don’t know how to use a computer. I don’t have email’… things that we take for granted.”
Fr. Bertram said the TechForce Training Center will fit in nicely with the neighborhood
and the work being done at the parish and the Adult Learning Center.
“It’s a great addition to a lot of the other wonderful ministries that are going on here on the property,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting to see this neighborhood, this immediate neighborhood, it’s one block really, come alive with all kinds of services to the wider community.”
Fr. Bertram said this shows how a church can be “the anchor” to the surrounding community.
“I’m very proud that St. Francis can be an anchor in this community,” Fr. Bertram said. “There was a church here and everything kind of grew around it and I think it’s a wonderful example of what the church in any area of this archdiocese can be.”
In a Dec. 3, 2014 story, the Catholic Herald reported the concept for the TechForce Training Center originated during a discussion between Gene Manzanet, St. Francis parishioner and vice president of community development for PNC Bank, and Tony Perez, director of the housing authority. Manzanet suggested the HACM invest in the ALC.
In that same story which reported the awarding of the $1.2 million grant by the HACM, Perez said he and the housing authority were looking for a partner with “the credibility and commitment to stick around.”
According to the housing authority website, www.hacm.org, the HACM won the competitive $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2012 and approached ALC and its landlord, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, about renovating the learning center’s second floor into classroom space, and adding an entrance, study areas and administrative offices.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki spoke at the grand opening of the TechForce Training Center and talked about how this will help people who feel left behind.
“This is the age of information,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Information is power. So when people are denied the access to information, they remain powerless in our society.”
He said the center is an example of how collaboration between different institutions can change a neighborhood for the good of the city.
“When you bring the church and churches with government and other organizations, especially business, you merge them together through the access here (at the ALC and St. Francis of Assisi) of education and you make a difference,” Archbishop Listecki said. “We do have the ability to move the needle.”
Herb Hayden, executive director of the ALC for 10 years, hopes the TechForce Training Center will give people an edge going into the job market.
“People now can do more and get that technological edge,” Hayden said. “They can learn the coding, can learn the skills, web design, those type of things so in that way they can go from livable wages to some careers in technology.”
He said this gives options to poor and minority citizens struggling to achieve financial
“Being an African American male, it saddens me to hear our youth stealing cars, doing those types of things. I can give them a ray of hope,” Hayden said, adding the training done at the center could lead to sustaining jobs. “Those are definitely careers they can take and be the supporters and wage earners of their families.”
He said there were challenges in constructing a building and connecting it to an existing building, but he was happy it could be completed. He also believes having this center on the north side of Milwaukee will be a lift to the residents struggling to keep up with the job demands.
“I really hope this is something we can bring to them and bring to the community right here in the central city on the corner of Fourth and Brown streets, in the shadow of St. Francis of Assisi Church,” Hayden said.
Perez said the partnership between the different organizations could have a direct impact on the surrounding community and Milwaukee as a whole.
“It does take the village to raise the village,” he said. “These are the kind of circumstances that if you’re able to harness them, they can increase the probability of sustainability over time and that the people are served.”
Perez said the building gives credibility to working together and he hopes to continue to work with the ALC and the parish.
“This is an evolving relationship so this is a first element that we feel that we can show them what potentially working together can accomplish,” he said. “May the Lord bless this project; that’s all I can say.”