By Oscar S. Cisneros
Every day this summer, children in the heart of Colton's Hispanic community have waited eagerly outside Luque Library for their Internet mentor to show up.
"Sometimes I'm here having my lunch and they're pounding on the window and they say, `When are you going to open?' " said librarian Irene Pedrosa. "A lot of the children do not have a computer at home -- they make friends with the (mentor) and they feel confident asking questions."
The Technology Mentor Program targets minority and disadvantaged youths. It equips them with computer and Internet literacy, then places them at community centers to act as mentors.
This summer, only Luque Library and the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino have mentors, but plans are under way to add more next year.
"You'd be surprised how many kids and young adults come in and say, `Wow -- I didn't know you could find all this on the Internet,' " Pedrosa said.
Luque is across the street from a housing project and a few blocks from Wilson Elementary school. Many of its patrons are poor children who have no Internet access outside of school.
"They have computer labs at the elementary school but they usually tell them to practice at home and so they come here," Pedrosa said.
Technology mentor Myesha Garrett, 18, understands the importance of teaching children and teens how to use the Internet.
"It gets information to the kids that don't really have the money to use computers at home," Garrett said. "They're going to need it when they grow up."
For her, the summer job means work experience before pursuing a degree in physics this fall at the University of California, Irvine.
In April, she and four other students learned how to use business software and the Internet, and to teach children the same skills.
"They have a lot of energy and some of them come in every day to use the computers -- so there's a lot of friendly faces," Garrett said. "Some of them are just fascinated with the Internet and others need to do homework projects."
With limited printed resources at Luque Library, its young patrons are increasingly tapping the Internet as a resource for research, Pedrosa said.
"A lot of our encyclopedias are a little outdated," she said. "They're able to get more recent information on the Internet."
But students are not the only ones benefiting from the mentor program, Pedrosa said. Parents, some of whom do not speak English, often follow their children's lead onto the Internet.
"They'll bring in their parents and show them, `Look at what I'm doing,' and the parents will be like, `I didn't know you could do that,' " Pedrosa said.
At the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino, adults seeking a high-school equivalency certificate can learn to use the Internet and computers, said technology mentor James Warren, 16, of Rialto.
A small, one-room learning center at the club gives people another chance at high-school studies and, often, their first shot at the World Wide Web.
"Most of them have never used the Internet before -- actually, I don't think any of them have," James said. "After they get to know how to use that, I let them go until they have questions." Barbara Alejandre, manager of Internet Services for the San Bernardino County superintendent of schools, said the technology mentor program is an extension of an earlier outreach effort.
La Comunidad Electronica was started with a $25,000 GTE grant in 1996, she said. The program was designed to bring technology to the Hispanic community through community centers.
When the funds ran out, the Technology Access Partnership Foundation picked up the program rather than let its community centers and contacts go to waste, Alejandre said.
This year, the Technology Mentor Program was funded by $30,000 in donations received by the foundation. Five students learned business etiquette, how to make a Web page and how to teach others technology.
The students were then placed at community centers for the internship portion of their training.
"We want to be able to provide them with an opportunity that they might not have in an area that's expanding," Alejandre said. "A lot of them got jobs, so at least we know the skills we gave them helped them."
Although the program has been on hiatus since June 30, Garrett and James were rehired to continue mentoring by the Enterprise for Economic Excellence, a nonprofit Internet service provider created by schools, businesses and governments in San Bernardino County.
The Technology Mentor Program will be renewed next year, Alejandre said. A greater emphasis will be placed on getting the students into the work force, she said.
In the meantime, the program's mentors have reached out to the community and provided information to those in need, she said.
"It is a wonderful feeling to know that you've been able to help out these people and show them how to use the Internet," Alejandre said.