EHDA wins national award for digital camera lab

Photo By J. Gervin, EHDA Assistant Resource Service Manager A young resident of the Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency (EHDA) uses one of eight computers in a new computer lab in the agencyƕs community center. A digital camera lab used in conjunction with the computers recently won a national award.

By Julie Fann
star staff
A digital camera lab spawned by the Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency recently won a national merit award for innovative programs. J. Gervin, assistant resource service manager for the agency, came up with the idea.
The agency was awarded a certificate by National Association of Housing and Development Officials (NAHRO) in Tampa, Fla. Administrators say the lab seeks to help EHDA adults and youth learn necessary technological skills.
"We purchased 10 digital cameras at $100 a month each for five months. We don't pay that much now, but it's an ongoing program," said Kelly Geagley, EHDA executive director. "We wanted to make it fun for them, but wanted them to learn how to use digital cameras with computers."
The digital cameras were purchased after EHDA staff decided to use local funding for the idea, regardless of cuts to federal programs Gov. Phil Bredesen made earlier this year, because Geagley and Gervin knew it would help residents become more self-sufficient.
According to an HDA national publication, the digital camera program "helps residents demonstrate independent skills, improve literacy, and develop positive peer relationships. The program is designed to give the community an opportunity to gain experience with cameras, computers and various software."
Every week, the center holds computer workshops for adults and youth to improve computer skills and literacy and to prepare adults for the GED and job market. When digital cameras are used, participants must take a photograph of something or someone important to them, scan it into the computer system, and then write about it.
To enter the competition for the digital lab award, Gervin created a portfolio of photos and writing residents completed. "I am just so proud of her for coming up with this idea in the first place and for the fact that we have won a national award," Geagley said.
A separate project used in connection with the digital camera lab is the eight computers built by individuals who are part of the East Tennessee State University Community Partnership Program.
EHDA granted the partnership a space at the community center, where the local Families First office was once housed before it was transferred to Johnson City. Geagley said the partnership received an equipment grant and decided to build the computer lab and let EHDA residents participate in it.
EHDA encourages residents to pursue skills that will enable them to enter the workforce. Currently, nursing homes in the area are in need of Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) and applicants only need a GED to be considered for a position.
Geagley said two adult residents have received their GED as a result of using software available in the computer lab, and four residents have found jobs. "We have software that helps them build a formal resumé, and it has been very helpful," he said.
However, one resident who has overcome amazing obstacles to communicate with her family may be the best reason the lab exists, according to Geagley.
"We have an elderly lady here who can't read. Her husband is in the penitentiary, and she has learned how to take photos of her children, scan them into the computer, and write letters to her husband that she sends to him by mail," Geagley said. "If she is the only reason we did this, then it was worth it."