Community Forward Learning Centers Provide Tech-Focused Training for Local Communities

How JumpStart’s partnership with Verizon is elevating STEM education in Cleveland

Verizon Community Forward center

One of the most important parts of uplifting STEM education is creating opportunities and making sure everyone has access to the tools and education needed for success. Expanding access to these resources can be transformative for communities, which is one reason why entrepreneurship organization JumpStart, a funded partner of Ohio Third Frontier, recently partnered with Verizon to bring state-of-the-art technology and STEM programming to local Cleveland communities.

“The Verizon Community Forward Learning Centers are a unique, hybrid opportunity for the community,” said Feowyn Mackinnon, JumpStart Director of Learning Center Curriculum and Education. “We’re half maker space, half tech center. We provide maker technology like laptops, 3D printers, vinyl cutters, laser cutters, and virtual reality. We built a curriculum around these various pieces of technology to break them down so that they’re easily accessible for anyone in the community, regardless of learning level.”

JumpStart’s partnership with Verizon began as a prototype of the company’s community forward initiative to help revitalize community spaces that are under-resourced across the country. Cleveland was one of four cities chosen by the company for learning centers at the Earle B. Turner Recreation Center and the Clark-Fulton branch of the Cleveland Public Library that would provide more exposure and access to STEM-related tools and programming.

“Verizon asked us to lead the operation of developing two locations in Cleveland, one in a historically African-American community and the other in a Latino and Hispanic community,” said Lamont Mackley, JumpStart Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer and Community Engagement Officer. “With our focus on entrepreneurship, we knew that we had to ensure our constituents had the training and engagement with technology they would need to become successful entrepreneurs.”

The centers run in-house programs for people of all ages, and they actively foster relationships with local businesses such as Future Ink Graphics and Minority Tech Alliance, partnerships that further expand STEM offerings in the community. The centers also cater to every level of technology literacy, from elementary students to seniors eager to learn new skills.

“Last summer, a woman who has lived in the Union-Miles community for over 90 years visited the center to learn how to use a computer,” Mackinnon said. “We walked her through learning what a mouse and monitor are, the difference between a computer and a physical monitor, and how to use email. By the end of the week, she had enough computer basics to send emails to her son, which started our weekly Cyber Seniors program.”

A key part of the ongoing success of the centers is the collaboration between JumpStart, an organization that understands the needs of these Cleveland communities, with Verizon, a national retailer that can provide important tools and resources. For community members, that means cross-generational empowerment for future entrepreneurs in STEM and beyond.

“We built these centers in a library and rec center on purpose,” Mackley said. “We wanted to be located there to engage directly with the community, which you can’t do unless you’re in a place where residents meet and gather. Establishing that connection allows us to spread technology and STEM skills and create relationships that can be super impactful for every individual in the community.”

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