Church basement transformed as cyber hub

The basement of West Baltimore's Union Baptist Church used to be storage space, but now it's filled with flat-screen monitors and Dell PCs loaded with programs like Microsoft Word.

With financial help from a nonprofit group and a local hospital, members of the church at 1219 Druid Hill Ave. have created their own tech-savvy oasis. The Harvey Johnson Neighborhood CyberCentre, which opened for use yesterday, will fill an important and sometimes overlooked need for the community that surrounds the church, organizers said.

The Centre for Management and Technology, a Baltimore-based nonprofit; Maryland General Hospital; and Union Baptist Church joined forces to create the center, which aims to provide Internet access and computer training for a community that generally doesn't have access to such technology in its homes.

"In this neighborhood, they can't afford to have DSL, to maintain a computer, worry about viruses" said Alan B. Fabian, the founder and CEO of the Centre for Management and Technology. "We do it all for you."

Featuring more than 50 computers with Internet access, fax machines, copiers, scanners and a community lounge and meeting area, officials hope the CyberCentre will serve as a neighborhood hub. Ten of the computers are so-called "SMART sourcing stations," which will enable patrons to use the space for telemarketing and other customer-service work.

Kathleen Cain, a member of the church, signed up for a membership to the computer center yesterday. She actually has a computer at home, but hasn't quite mastered some of its technology.

"I finally done e-mail, got on the Internet," Cain said. "But I went to do something the other day with some coupons, but it kept flashing back at me."

The Centre for Management and Technology donated about $200,000 and Maryland General Hospital gave $50,000 to get the CyberCentre off the ground. Membership fees to the CyberCentre, which range from $10 to $60 annually, will enable the computer center to sustain itself, officials said.

"Just the fact that I pay you a few dollars creates a different attitude," said Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor at Union Baptist. "This idea that you pay a minimal amount of money, it creates ownership."

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