By Beatriz Vera, Building Skills Partnership

Café con Tabletas is a new digital literacy initiative of Building Skills Partnership, a non-profit organization that aims to improve the quality of life for property-service workers and their families by increasing their skills, access to education, and opportunities for career and community advancement. For almost a decade, we held computer classes in Fruitvale Plaza, Oakland, a few steps from the BART subway station. Every Saturday, 25 workers from nearby communities came to our computer lab to access our digital literacy training. The curriculum is centered on developing practical, daily life skills like finding an address on Google Maps, sending and receiving emails, attaching and downloading documents, looking for products and services in Google, using diverse apps in the phone.

However, after hosting and sharing that space with our partner, SEIU-USWW, steep costs of real estate in the city forced a move to an area of nearby Alameda with no public transportation on Saturdays;  we lost many students.

After months of unsuccessfully scouting Oakland to find a suitable and affordable space for our computer lab, an instructor proposed that a café in Oakland that was becoming a community hub might let us host our computing class there. The name of the café was bold and inspiring, (“Hasta Muerte Coffee”/ Until Death Coffee House), named as such after  the neighbors had successfully rallied to save it from being pushed out by gentrification by helping a collective buy the building. Fortunately, Hasta Muerte Coffee was open to paying it forward and providing a home in Oakland for our new “Café con Tabletas” project.

Today, we have a deal: Don Curtis, our instructor, meets with six students in the café for two hours every Saturday. Don explained the nature of the deal.

“ The location is ideal for students as they live nearby in the Fruitvale district. Jose and Matt (who are part of the collective ownership of Hasta Muerte) are usually both there on Saturdays to serve excellent coffee, empanadas, as well as other yummy treats, and to help set up the back room where the class is held. We use folding tables and chairs and a white board, and I bring the tablets. The curriculum is centered around “mobile devices” and Google Apps. Most people these days use their phones for multiple purposes including verbal communication, email, social media, apps, and text messaging.  No need for a computer lab to hold a technology class anymore, so why not a cafe? Part of the appeal of this class is also the social aspect. The students sincerely like each other and are instrumental in supporting each other’s learning. It’s a perfect combination of coffee and camaraderie with a dash of technology.”

At first the idea sounded perhaps too adventurous, as “out of the box” initiatives do at the beginning, but today, “Café con Tabletas” thrives as  a win-win relationship, where our students can develop the skills and knowledge they need all while building a community and supporting a local business. BTW, if you pay a visit to the café, try the beef or the mushroom empanadas…they are out of this world!

Beatriz Vera is Program Administrator at Building Skills Partnership, a statewide non-profit in California that aims to improve the quality of life for property-service workers and their families by increasing their skills, access to education, and opportunities for career and community advancement.

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