Program celebrates computer lab success

The Banks District computer lab, located at the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department in Rock Cave, was honored as for its excellent performance at the West Virginia Future Generations Broadband Opportunities Program celebration and recognition ceremony Sunday.

The volunteer fire department hosted the event, which celebrated three years of service at 60 computer centers and the impact they have had in their respective communities.

“Local people must be equal partners and drivers for change. I see that here in Rock Cave. This is an amazing community,” Future Generations Broadband Director LeeAnn Shreve said. “I am just blown away by the success of this lab in this small community. What you have done is nothing short of extraordinary.”

The Banks District computer lab served the most patrons, as more than 1,187 patrons logged in during the second year of the program. The lab also was honored for having the most patrons overall. The Greenbrier Valley lab served 116 patrons in the third program year. The Bartow-Frank-Durbin lab served 556 patrons and ranked in the top five for its first year. The Upper Tract lab served 494 patrons, also ranking in the top five for the first year.

The mentor at the Banks District computer lab, Sharon Bonnett, worked 885 volunteer hours in the second year of the program, ranking at the top of volunteer hours. She also was named a top training attendee with 13 training events attended. She was voted hardest working among the other mentors when special awards were announced.

Gary Bonnett from Banks District computer lab volunteered 71 hours, and David Taylor received a mentor recognition. At the Valley Head Volunteer Fire Department, Sheryl Ware volunteered 91 hours, Frank Hefferman volunteered 103 hours and Randall Ware volunteered 64 hours. For the Circleville lab, Caron Warner volunteered 291 hours. At the Lewis County Emergency Squad lab, Chris McCall volunteered 232 hours, and Vera Shackleford volunteered 305. Shackleford also was part of the site visit team.

With the Upper Tract lab, Tim Whetzel volunteered 152 hours, and Melanie Whetzel volunteered 188 hours. Both were recognized for their special impact in service to a group home. Group home residents and frequent lab-goers Alisa Warner and Pam Bennett also were recognized.

Danny Arbogast with the Bartow-Frank-Durbin lab volunteered 103 hours and was named the most dedicated in unique awards selected by other mentors.

Community surveyors Adrieanne Shreve and Kelsey Bowman were recognized for their service. Jamey Whetzel was recognized as honorary mentor.

“This project has been a wonderful opportunity to empower communities through universal Internet access, promote use of sustainable technology and to ultimately build and support frameworks for sharing and assimilating knowledge,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., stated in a letter. “We know in the Mountain State that by working together, we can overcome any obstacle to move our state and nation forward.”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also provided a written message to congratulate those who achieved success through the community program.

“By increasing access to education, health care, jobs and even connecting with family and friends, broadband access truly changes lives,” Rockefeller stated in his letter.

“Fortunately, because of Future Generations’ vision and a heck of a lot of dedication on the part of 160 of our best neighbors, a lot of families are drinking up the wonders of the worldwide web,” U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall stated in his congratulatory letter. “I’ve been more than happy to support Future Generations grant applications in the past, and proud to help personally launch a few (lab) centers as we build upon the wide, yet solid foundation you have been pouring throughout rural communities.”

Labs are available in 37 counties with 172 computer mentors who received training across the state and collectively worked 25,500 volunteer hours in the past three years. Through the efforts of all lab mentors and the Future Generations Broadband team, more than 15,000 patrons have had access to the labs in rural areas of West Virginia where broadband Internet services may not be as readily available.

West Virginia’s broadband adoption rate has increased from 33 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2010, according to TechNet’s State Broadband Index.

The labs, mostly based in volunteer fire departments and rescue squads in rural areas, provide a conduit for local patrons to shop, do research, complete schoolwork, conduct career preparation, communicate with friends and family and learn basic computer skills. Access to the labs is free to patrons of all ages.

Although its grant funding has come to an end, West Virginia Future Generations Broadband continues to make strides in its efforts to help patrons.

Shreve said that two new computer labs will be ready this month for veterans.