Friday, July 21, 2017 This Week's Paper

What’s Right With Tacoma: Intel Computer Clubhouse rises again

// Thanks to young women’s grit and service

Tacoma’s Intel Computer Clubhouse is preparing to launch two of its members on a life that two years ago had fallen out of their imaginations.

Jade Hicks and Alliyah Peoples, both 16 and both rising juniors at Stadium High School, are in Boston through Aug. 3 at Intel Computer Clubhouse Network’s 2014 Teen Summit. They and 198 young people from 18 countries are on the summit’s mission to “explore using technology to make positive change and stand up for youth rights in issues such as education, environment, freedom and safety, health, and speech and expression.”

Intel founded the first of its 100 clubhouses in 1993 to give kids in underserved neighborhoods the tools and tutoring to join the wonderful, powerful world of computing. In 2001, Luversa Sullivan, Ph.D., wrestled the program onto Tacoma’s Hilltop. She used her ties with Evergreen State College in Tacoma, Allen AME Church and Allen Renaissance to get the site and enough backing to satisfy Intel’s requirements for the computer equipment and membership in the network.

The site – an old building in an alley – is humble, and oddly appropriate to an industry where so many giants hark back to a garage. Sullivan made it all work.

She connected kids’ passions for music, science, math, arts and games to the tools that made them soar. She set high standards for behavior, achievement and plans.

Jaleesa Trapp was in the seventh grade at Hunt Middle School when she came to the clubhouse. She was not loving her English classes, and specifically not sympathizing with Romeo or Juliet when Sullivan linked the lovers to a computer project – an interactive CDRom. Trapp built it then realized she’d learned more about the play then she’d intended. She’d been snookered into overachievement, and that excited her.

Sullivan challenged her and connected her to opportunities, including an internship with Microsoft, an education in engineering at the University of Washington and an AmeriCorps year working at Peace Community Church’s after-school education program. Trapp credits Sullivan with pushing, connecting and organizing her enough to grab for her potential.

Then, on June 13, 2011, Sullivan died unexpectedly.

The clubhouse remained open, thanks to the perseverance of Allen AME Church members. But without Sullivan’s computing charisma, the programming suffered, Trapp said. The kids were using the computers, but without the challenges Sullivan had posed for them.

“They weren’t producing any projects,” Trapp said.

They were exploring without a guide, or just playing, both of which were a lot better than some of the alternatives, but they weren’t meeting the standards set by Intel, or Sullivan.

“Ms. Luversa had a rule,” Trapp said. “No games until 6 p.m., unless you’re making the game.”

Alliyah Peoples felt the loss. “The clubhouse changed my life by giving me a safe place,” she said. “I went through a rebellious stage and came in here to work on projects. I have a wide imagination. I would get really interested in projects.”

She and Jade Hicks enjoyed the clubhouse together, but found different interests there.

With Sullivan gone, the clubhouse lost the magic for both of them.

“I would come in on and off. I was gone about a good year,” Alliyah said. “Then I came in one day and saw Jaleesa was here.”

Trapp saved the program when an Intel rep said the program wasn’t complying with requirements because it has no one to run it. There was no money to pay a director, but Trapp stepped in anyway. Intel pays for supplies and the netywork. Allen AME pays for the building and utilities. Donations, if there are any, pay for Trapp.

Alliyah passed the word that Trapp was back to Jade. They spread the word and got down to work. They created projects, including one measuring surface water pollution. They backed up the math tutoring and proof school work. They helped plan the summer program. They mentored younger kids making videos, designing games. They even vacuumed and did dishes.

Trapp says they have helped rebuild the Clubhouse. They have proven themselves as leaders. She went with them to Boston, where she is on the conference staff. That, she said, is a good position to see and celebrate as Jade and Alliyah vacuum up information, ideas and the joy of the possibilities ahead of them.