- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003


  Sam Hampton has transformed a building at the corner of 15th and D streets SE from a magnet for loiterers and open-air drug sales to a place where students and seniors come to learn the latest technology.
  Mr. Hampton, former manager of the Executive Leadership Council in Northwest, has clocked numerous hours hopscotching the country helping historically black colleges and universities develop their information technology infrastructure.
  Two years ago, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse — the opportunity to create a computer learning center from scratch in a depressed neighborhood in Southeast, inside a former corner store that had sold far more beer than bread.
  “Timing was everything. I came onboard post-9/11, and I personally felt that I needed to do something much more on a grass-roots level,” says Mr. Hampton, who has set up electronic classrooms at Morehouse College in Atlanta and offered educators tips on finding solutions to their computer glitches at Fisk University in Nashville.
  He set up Capitol Hill Computer Corner on the first floor of a building owned by Chad Anthony, a neighborhood resident who believes in the community, its people and its potential.
  “When I came over to check out the space — it was an empty shell, with the exception of a powerful server. Any time someone decides that a server will be the first piece of equipment to go into a space — I knew we were on the same page. I was intrigued, and the endeavor seemed worthwhile and fulfilling,” Mr. Hampton says with a smile.
  The two men shared a vision of creating a computer learning center and changing the face of the neighborhood.
  “My life philosophy is helping others to do better — it’s the way I’ve been raised,” says Mr. Hampton, 44, who teaches people in the community how to maneuver the mouse and navigate through life using technology.
  Equipped with a doctorate in urban education from Cleveland State University, Mr. Hampton rolled up his sleeves and got to work in the early days of the center, writing grant proposals and teaching children and senior citizens computer basics, word processing and how to use the Internet.
  “The neighborhood is slowly changing. One of the things we have accomplished is turning around an intersection,” the executive director says.
  Located directly across from Payne Elementary School, the Capitol Hill Computer Corner offers after-school programs for children. Many students who flock there daily attend Payne and other schools in the neighborhood. After a healthy snack, they buckle down to do homework assignments with the benefit of state-of-the-art computers and teacher Liz McCartney, who works with the students one on one. Classes are free for children younger than 14, Mr. Hampton says.
  “From 3:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m., we reinforce the skills and the lesson plans the kids get at school. We integrate the time here with fun activities like digital photography, or they can make their own soundtracks using audio software. This way, it doesn’t feel like school to them, although they are doing a lot of problem solving,” Mr. Hampton says.
  He says many young people view the computer as a gaming device, but games are not allowed at the Computer Corner.
  “We would much rather have them make games than play them. It’s the whole idea of using the computer as a tool of productivity,” he says.
  Along with the after-school program, the Computer Corner offers a Community Education Program geared toward adults for $15 a year and a Summer Technology Program for children, who are paired with mentors to produce award-winning films. Students work in teams to produce five-minute documentaries using the Computer Corner’s state-of-the-art equipment and getting expert advice from volunteers from Discovery Communications.
  The link with those volunteers developed when an adviser for the Computer Corner’s board of directors who worked at Discovery Communications got producers, editors and sound technicians there interested in the program. They formed Heroes and Hope, a nonprofit group of filmmakers who work with Computer Corner.
  The youngsters “take a concept and see it through to a finished product. Even though they’re working on a project, we try and teach life skills. We bring people in from the community to talk to the children on how to improve their writing, how to deal with conflict and make presentations,” Mr. Hampton says.
  “So, while they are mixing their music and doing their digital photography, they are also learning about how to respect each other, how to respect community, and how to be proud of who they are,” he says.
  Children aren’t the only ones enjoying the bright, airy, 1,200-square-foot space with recessed lighting and ceiling fans. Seniors come to socialize and to learn the latest technology, such as using the Internet and how to do a PowerPoint presentation. They also enjoy the colorful mural of the District’s neighborhood scenes, painted by area children.
  Mr. Hampton says one of his regulars, an 83-year-old man, commutes from Baltimore County weekly, come rain or shine.
  “He’s most noted for saying, ‘It’s not me, it’s the computer,’ when a screen goes blank or he loses his files. But he’s an example for everyone — if he can come here every day, then anybody can learn. And he enjoys being in this environment,” Mr. Hampton says.
  Once word of the technology lab traveled through the community, Doris Culver couldn’t wait for the Computer Corner to open its doors. Mrs. Culver checked her mailbox daily to find out when she could sign up for classes. A resident of Capitol Hill since 1972, she sees an array of opportunities open to the children who take advantage of the Computer Corner. She credits neighborhood parents who insist that their children get on the Internet.
  “Although many of the residents who live here do not come, they send their children and their grandchildren because they want to know how to use the computer,” says Mrs. Culver, 59.
  “Many children [who live in the neighborhood] don’t have computers. At one time, Payne Elementary had a computer teacher, but not any longer, and so the children come here to learn, and that’s great,” she says.
  The little computer whizzes also come to the Computer Corner to get a healthy snack after school — thanks to the Capital Area Food Bank and Mrs. Culver, who makes sure the children have plenty to eat before they sit down to do their homework.
  Mrs. Culver started out as a volunteer just to lend a hand to Mr. Hampton and Ms. McCartney and has since become an invaluable part of the team, Mr. Hampton says.
  


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