New computers help students at Gateway Center thrive – Monterey Herald

PACIFIC GROVE — Students at the Gateway Center of Monterey County have received a helping hand to be able to focus more on technology, using it to integrate into society and learn more about graphic art, music and other digital tools.

Gateway Center is a private, not-for-profit, community-based organization that provides residential care, developmental training and activity programs for adults, ages 18 and over, with developmental disabilities.

Thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Fremont Bank Foundation, the center’s Without Walls program was able to purchase three additional MacBooks for students. Previously, the program only had two laptops, one for the program’s coordinator and one for a teacher.

“It ended up that it wasn’t enough … we can’t share two laptops with about 12 people and expect to get a lot done. We really wanted to emphasize the technology part of what we could do,” Robert Freiri said, the center’s executive director. “It really became evident that we needed more technology in the classroom. …Bringing the laptops in gives (students) the opportunity to do the work and get hands-on experience. And we chose the MacBooks because they’re user-friendly and very intuitive to the learners that we have in our classroom.”

Students in the program can choose activities based on their interests and goals. Recently, students in the program have learned about nutrition, healthy eating and how to utilize Zoom (Gateway Center of Monterey County).

The mission behind Gateway Center began in the 1950s after a group of parents realized there weren’t any programs for their children with special needs. As their children grew up, the programs grew as well, eventually evolving into programs for teenagers and now – adults.

The Without Walls program is designed for young adults who have aged out of the traditional educational system – typically ages 22 and older. The program provides students with a combination of site-based pre-vocational and life training skills, as well as community-based recreational, social, educational and volunteer opportunities.

“Many of these students and the folks that we have in our Without Walls program still have that need of belonging and a sense of connection,” Freiri said. “So that’s where our program comes into play because it’s a bridge for them to go lots of different ways.”

Students can choose activities based on their interests and goals. Recently, students in the program have learned about nutrition, healthy eating and how to utilize Zoom, the popular video conferencing program.

Community involvement is another aspect of the program. Students volunteered over the weekend at Pacific Grove’s Good Old Days festival, where they sold some of their artwork among other vendors. They’re also working on volunteering with Pacific Grove’s Peace of Mind dog rescue as dog walkers.

A large focus within the program is teaching students new skills that can help them get employed and empower them to become independent.

“One of the great things about the Without Walls program is that it really is centered around the participants and what the participants’ needs are in terms of life skills, pre-employment work, and interactions with peers and with the staff,” Freiri said .

The new computers will allow program leaders to work with students on filling out job applications, creating resumes, practicing job interviews and gaining necessary skills and experience.

“We’re focusing on integration into the community, building more social connections and ultimately just helping our students gain that independence so they can be out in the community making meaningful relationships and enjoying themselves as individuals,” explained Michelle Velasco, the program’s community integration coordinator.

Velasco said the laptops will also provide students with the resources to learn more about digital art, as well as technology, typing and research.

The Gateway Center was one of four organizations to receive a grant from the Fremont Bank Foundation for the first quarter of 2022.

The foundation believes that the bank’s success is tied to the community’s success. Driven to enhance the quality of life for all people in the community, the foundation has donated over $34.9 million to community nonprofits as of 2021. They primarily contribute to five key areas in society: education and youth; social and human care; health and wellness; parks and recreation; and arts and culture.

“We are a community bank and supporting the community is one of our missions. It started with our founder 57 years ago and we have continued the tradition,” Julie Zhu, the bank’s senior director of nonprofit services group, said. “We support because it’s important for the community to be thriving. … It’s in our DNA.”

Zhu said that the foundation is a relationship-driven and prefers to have connections with the organizations it supports.

“We always say, ‘we’re not just supporting the cause, we’re supporting the people who are actually running those organizations.’ So, it’s very important that we have some connection to that,” she explained.

In addition to the three computers funded by the bank, Gateway Center will also be able to purchase two more MacBooks thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation for Monterey County. And after leaders at the Pacific Grove Adult Education Center found out that the Gateway Center needed more technology, they offered to provide students access to iPads.

“In the very near future, by the end of this month, every student who wants access to [technology] will have access,” Freiri concluded. “There will be plenty of devices for them to do that.”

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