In 2005, as part of PPL’s Capital Campaign, rehab was begun on the PPL-owned building at the corner of Chicago and Franklin avenues to create new job-readiness training classrooms and a computer and resource lab, open to the public looking into education and employment opportunities. Six months before renovation began on the Emma B. Howe Learning Center, PPL opened a public access computer lab, with plans to add more programming and training once the building improvements were completed. Interest was immediate and has grown steadily from 70 to 130 individuals visiting the lab every month. PPL AmeriCorps Members and volunteers serve as Job Search Coaches at the lab, and they teach basic computer skills, both one-on-one and through group workshops.
The AmeriCorps Members come to PPL through the Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP), a special project aimed at raising technology literacy and access throughout the metro area to help bridge the Digital Divide, which is sorely present in the Phillips neighborhood, the largest and poorest geographic community in Minnesota. The CTEP grant raises to 14 the number of AmeriCorps and VISTA Members contributing to PPL; in exchange for a yearlong commitment of service, these volunteers receive hands-on experience, a modest stipend, and an education grant. A grand opening for the Learning Center is scheduled for October 2006, when renovation will be complete.