By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Pittsburgh CONNECTS brings wireless computing to the Hilltop


January 10, 2012

It is not only assisting and supervising youngsters Dave Giannaula likes about his staff position at the newly opened Pittsburgh CONNECTS Hilltop Computer Center.

"We feel we are really making a difference in the neighborhood by giving them something productive to do in a safe and structured environment," he said.

The center at 500 Brownsville Rd. in Mount Oliver is open seven days a week. It is free to the public, who may drop in anytime.

The hours are Mondays through Thursdays, and Saturdays, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Fridays, it is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from noon to 7 p.m.

Its numerous free offerings include: wireless internet, internet classes, youth mentoring, printing, access to laptops, and more for children and adults.

There is also ample space for community events like classes, workshops, and movies.

Homework help on any subject is available Saturdays and Sundays from 3 to 7 p.m.

There are also workshops targeted to adults with the theme of job building skills, like Internet Searches, and How to Use a Computer.

Family-friendly films are shown at 5 p.m. on Saturdays in a back room. As a lot of pre-teens come to the center, the staff likes to run blockbusters to hold their attention.

At 5 p.m. on Sundays youngsters show off their favorite YouTube videos.

"The community aspect is great as it's nice to get to know the people. If we have an idea the program director lets us pretty much do it," said Tyler McAndrew.

He and Mr. Giannaula, both of whom attend the University of Pittsburgh, are AmeriCorps members who receive stipends for their 25 hours per week as staff members at the center.

They are part of the AmericCorps KEYS Service Corps, or the Knowledge to Empower Youths to Success. Members serve at-risk area youth by providing safe places with structured activities, assisting with homework and classwork, and more.

There are also two other AmeriCorps workers and two full-time employees.

The six-room center, which opened in Oct., 2011, once housed magistrate's and doctor's offices.

The center receives support from the YMCA, Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA), and Broadband USA. The YMCA rents, and pays for, the space.

The non-profit NLA, which used to be called Wireless Neighborhoods, awards grants from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and other sources to community and faith organizations for quality-of-life services for children and families.

Newcomers to the center complete a user registration form that generates a user name, after which the applicant makes up his/her own password.

For instructors Giannaula and McAndrew, who would like to teach after college, the daily after-school rush of students is a testament to the center's role in the neighborhood.

"It fills a void," Mr. McAndrew said.

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