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Magic Technology Upgrade

BLADENSBURG--Residents of Bladensburg's Autumn Woods apartment community have new technology to help them with homework, tutoring and even professional training.

All it took was a little bit of Magic.

NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson brought a technology upgrade Sept. 30 to Autumn Woods' Magic Johnson Foundation Community Empowerment Center. The Autumn Woods center, first opened in 1999, is one of 18 community empowerment centers across the country funded by the Magic Johnson Foundation. The center offers free classes ranging from basic math tutoring for younger students to resume writing and financial training for adults.

The upgrade was provided in partnership with Best Buy, whose technical support division, Geek Squad, supervised the installation.

Among the new amenities were new memory and software for the center's 20 existing computers, four 42-inch flat-panel LCD screens to be used for classroom instruction and two webcams that can be used for video conferencing.

"What we try to do is go into housing developments or projects like this that have a lot of minorities living in [them]... and give young people who live here access to a computer," Johnson said. "What we're finding is that a lot of them can't afford to have one in their homes, but they still need access to one."

Having that access can help students with homework and research projects, Johnson said, adding the centers don't just help young people.

"It's done a wonderful job for the parents, too, who didn't have computer skills. We have someone on site who can teach them," Johnson said.

Bladensburg Councilman Walter George (Ward 2) said the center was "a godsend" for the community, providing not only a resource for students but also for professional training that could help residents find work.

Niecie Gary-Lowndes, who has been Autumn Woods' resident services coordinator since June, said she has seen at least 10 residents find work in fields including security and IT consulting since she began work. The residents had benefitted from resume-writing workshops and from using the computers to access employment center websites, she said.

Bladensburg High School junior Deshaun Williams, 16, said she'd been using the center for several years and used tutorial programs on the computers to help with her math work.

Williams also said many of her peers could benefit from resources like the center.

"A lot of my friends struggle in different subjects," Williams said. "[At the center], you don't have to pay to get a tutor, you can just go online."

Johnson said computer literacy could inspire young people and show them more of the world.

"We have to do all we can to encourage them ... to open their eyes," said the five-time NBA champion and former Los Angeles Lakers point guard. "The more that they can see, the more they can say, 'OK, I've got to get the education because I want to get there.'"