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Darren Hughes thought up the Boys & Girls Club’s Computer Stars program on a whim of inspiration.
The program which teaches kids how computers work and how to run them is so impressive, other clubs in Nevada have asked for copies to implement in their clubs.
The program could even become a national program, Hughes said. Not a bad idea from someone who started at the club as a community service volunteer.
Hughes, who has worked in the computer industry since 1978, came to the club in a less than usual manner. He was unemployed and was driving without car insurance, when he got caught. His crime of not having insurance landed him an opportunity to do community service to pay off the fine. He was going to be sent to work with FISH, but lived near the club and asked to do service there instead.
“At the time, I was sick of computers,” Hughes said. “I was unemployed and got discouraged with (computers). I really wanted to do something I liked to do. I just wanted to work at the club with the kids. Kids are great people.
“Right from the start, I hoped I could work it into a job, but I was never sure or anything.”
Hughes kept volunteering because he “just liked being there,” and with encouragement from other staff, applied for a part-time job at the front counter.
“I was even happy at the counter, but I never actually got to work with the kids,” he said. “When I actually got the opportunity to work with the kids, I jumped at the chance.”
He shared his ideas with other staff members about things he’d like to see done in the computer room and eventually applied for the position of computer room director a few months later.
Since summer 1999, more than 2,000 kids have attended a Computer Stars class. Hughes designed the classes so children could learn at their own pace in five areas, or stars, of computing: word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets and databases, computer programming and Internet and Web page design.
The students take 15 classes to complete a star. When that star is complete, they move to the next level and can be a helper in the lower-level classes.
“It’s a supplement to what they’re learning in school, but everyday I aim for them to learn something,” Hughes said. “Kids learn fast. They’re like sponges. Working with kids is great. It kind of keeps you young and they’re eager to learn.”
The kids like him, too.
“Darren is the coolest teacher, but only on Fridays,” joked Thomas Fultz, 13. “Well, he’s cool every other day, but he’s coolest on Fridays. I’m going to take over Darren’s job when I grow up.”
Fultz loves the Web page design class, although Hughes says his computer programming classes are the most popular.
“He makes you want to come to class because you know you’re going to achieve something,” said Jenna Black, 11.
“He teaches us a lot of stuff about computers and helps us with all the words,” said Dan Dietz, 9. “I learned that not all computers are for playing, they’re for fun and work, too.”
The computer room is part of the club’s $85,000 education center, made possible with grants from Carson City, Nauman Foundation and the department of education training and rehabilitation.
Adults have gained an interest in the program, too, Hughes said. Now, every third Saturday the club will offer a Computer Stars-styled computer workshop to members member of the community. The class is free and is sponsored by the Carson City Junior Chamber of Commerce.