After years of traveling in Central and Latin America, Lanaea Featherstone developed a love for the Latino community. Her friends even call her “Latina de Corazon”—Latina in the heart. So when she began realized that she could help Latino immigrant families in Baltimore use technology to get and keep better jobs, and help their children do better in school, Featherstone could not ignore the calling.
“Technology is revolutionizing our nation at a rapid pace,” Featherstone says. “But not being connected to technology puts Latino parents and their children at a disadvantage both economically and socially.”
According to research by the Pew Hispanic Center, Featherstone says, “Latinos are significantly less likely than whites to have home computers, an internet connection or own a cell phone.” That lack of technology makes it difficult for family members to learn about and apply for good jobs. And it also means that children in those households are at a disadvantage in school.
“The world is changing and everybody’s digitizing documents. Job applications are available online these days,” Featherstone says. “A lot of things that we think are easily accessible are not for those who don’t know how to use the computer.”
So Featherstone will use her fellowship to provide computer literacy workshops and mentoring programs to create a core of Latino immigrant parents who are well-versed in using computer technology. She will start the program at Patterson Park Public Charter School, with the goal of replicating the initiative in other schools with high immigrant populations.
Over the 18-month fellowship, Featherstone plans to work with about 65 Latino immigrant parents and 30 children from the Patterson Park neighborhood and surrounding area.
Featherstone, who speaks fluent Spanish, will recruit families to participate in the program and also teachers who will work with families during a six-week Saturday computer literacy course. Participants will master such basic skills as how to use a mouse, the internet, and the Microsoft Office suite of programs, how to sign up for an email account, and how to create a professional resume.
The course also will include a mentoring component. Parents will be matched with mentors who will provide professional development coaching and job search assistance.
In addition, during the computer courses, mentors and trainers will work with the children of participants on-site, helping the parents learn how to provide academic support to their kids.
“The language barrier coupled with the technology barrier makes it so Latino parents often can’t help their children with homework,” Featherstone says. “We’re helping the parents so they can better assist their kids.”
At the program’s completion, families will receive a refurbished computer through a partnership with the East Baltimore Resource Technology Center.
“The whole goal of this project is economic empowerment and skills building,” Featherstone says. “We want to help remove any barriers to their success. I’m very passionate about this work and the Latino community as a whole and I really think that this will improve lives and make a difference in Baltimore.”