Antonio Perez, executive director of the housing authority, said the new center would be at the Adult Learning Center and would be operated in partnership with Milwaukee Area Technical College, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and others.
“We want to use housing as a platform to continue to be relevant to those inside and outside the walls of our housing units,” Perez said at the housing authority’s annual meeting, held under a tent in the parking lot of the Adult Learning Center, 1916 N. 4th St.
The new tech facility, called the Milwaukee iCenter, will be built in space on the second floor of the Adult Learning Center, which leases the building from St. Francis Church across the street. It is scheduled to open in 2015.
The center is financed with a $1.2 million grant that the housing authority received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
MATC will provide instruction, case management and tech support services at the center. Job readiness and youth educational activities will be provided by the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board, Milwaukee Public Schools, the housing authority and others.
The center will blend classroom instruction with online advanced courses so that those who use the center can develop and improve their technology skills, prepare for jobs and use the training to potentially continue on to MATC for additional credentials and certifications in the tech industry.
Once completed, the center will be open to adult learners who attend the center, residents of housing authority projects, including nearby Hillside and Lapham Park, and others.
Perez said the housing authority looked for a place to house the tech center and decided instead to team up with the Adult Learning Center, which already teaches adult educational classes and has a staff and corps of an estimated 100 volunteers.
With decreasing federal money, the housing authority needs to leverage the government funds it receives and work with others in the community to provide services, he said.
The Adult Learning Center has been working with adults for 34 years and has helped more than 350 get their GED, said Herb Hayden, director.
“This new iCenter will bridge the technology divide and make adult learners more marketable,” he said of the new partnership with the housing authority.
The Adult Learning Center gets 90% of its money from foundations and private sources, with MATC providing teachers and support, he said.
Cynthia Dalton, 43, told those gathered for the meeting that she first went to the center in 2008 to work on her GED and managed to get it in 2013. But in the process, she got help with a hearing disability and housing, she told those gathered for the meeting.
While she was attending classes at the center, a volunteer noticed her speech and hearing difficulty and suggested she be tested, Hayden said in an interview.
“Since I was about 6 years old I’ve had speech and hearing problems, but I didn’t think they were so bad,” Dalton said.
Audiology tests showed she had about a 70% hearing loss, Hayden said.
“A hearing loss can impact and slow down learning,” he said.
Dalton said, “I was frustrated.”
After the tests and the diagnosis, a center volunteer paid for a hearing aid for Dalton, Hayden said.
“It’s made a huge difference,” she said. “I could hear and understand.”
Dalton said she also encountered homelessness and the center helped her to find shelter and later a place to live.
Today she’s studying at MATC and wants to be a nurse. She’s also learning sign language because she said she hopes to help those with hearing disabilities.