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Updated: 2/18/2010 - 4:18 AM

Community service opens up job opportunities
Charity group provides computer training
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An alliance between Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine and North Fork Women's Resource Center executive director Barbara Summers (standing) has resulted in a computer training program for NFWRC thrift store workers to get computer training between waiting on customers. From left: workers Steven Perry, Stephanie Benetatos, Gloria Houpe and Sarina Riehl.
"If you don't know computers today, you're going nowhere and going nowhere fast," Gloria Houpe of Riverhead once told North Fork Women's Resource Center director Barbara Summers.

That statement prompted Ms. Summers, who teaches computer skills at the center in Cutchogue, to suggest that workers at the group's thrift store in Riverhead -- some of whom are completing court-ordered community service -- be given an opportunity to learn about bits and bytes.

"I'm sitting here looking at them and thinking, 'What am I going to do with them?'" Ms. Summers said of the workers who find themselves with little to do during lulls at the store, which Ms. Summers started to help raise cash for programs run by the nonprofit women's group.

Thanks to Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), six computers and a printer that were on the county's surplus list are now allowing workers to develop their computing skills under Ms. Summers' guidance at the back of the thrift shop.

'We just think this is a good thing," Mr. Romaine said Friday at the thrift store. There are too many people without computer skills that are vital to being marketable, he said.

"I have experienced first-hand their fear of education, modern technology and computers," Ms. Summers said of the unemployed and under-employed people she has trained. "This gets them over the fear of the computer."

'This is part of changing who I was to who I am.' thrift store worker and computer student Steven Perry
"It was my assignment, but I enjoy doing it," said Steven Perry, 23, of Centereach, who didn't say what landed him before a judge who ordered community service.

"I ran into some issues and I had to change my lifestyle," he said. "This is part of changing who I was to who I am," he said with pride. His long-term goal is to explore a career in veterinary medicine, he said.

Sarina Riehl, 38 of Mastic Beach was also completing community service. She hopes eventually to learn to be a chef and hopes computer literacy will help her in her studies, she said.

Ms. Houpe, 50, a volunteer at the thrift shop -- and the woman who got Ms. Summers thinking about putting computers in the store -- is a home health care worker who said she was willing to do whatever it took to earn enough to support herself.

"I'm here for job training,' she said of the computer practice. "Without this, I'm going to be lost."

The North Fork Women's Resource Center offers seminars, support groups and technical training workshops to enable women to explore, develop and achieve their "full potential," Ms. Summers explained.

But she also wants to open computer classes to the wider community, so people without sufficient skills to get a good job can learn. Those interested should call 734-4233.

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