BRIDGEPORT — The historic Benton House will get some modern programming upgrades, courtesy of two new cash awards.
The first stems from the resource agency’s involvement with the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, a grassroots advocacy group that helped close the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants operated by Midwest Generation.
The power company agreed to send $10,000 to a commission of local residents, which then turned the money over to Benton House and the Youth Partnership Corps for the creation of a curriculum in Benton House’s computer lab, filled with 10 donated computers.
The idea is to lead teens through a series of 10-week classes that’ll have them refurbishing donated computers, learning how to diagnose computer problems and training to become instructors for basic software and hardware lessons.
“The end result is to not just have this as a classroom. It’s to train kids to use this classroom to be administrators of an open computer lab,” said Benton House youth programs coordinator Ben Noetzel. “This moves us toward our lofty goal of moving away from a drop-in lab to a more structured program.”
Benton House has also received $6,500 from the First Robotics Alliance, a NASA program that administers contests for youth-run robotics competitions across the world.
It’s a first for Benton House, a 105-year-old nonprofit social service agency serving Bridgeport.
The money was secured last week, Noetzel said. Benton House volunteers will soon begin recruiting students from Southwest Side high schools to help build task-oriented robots suitable for competition.
“You don’t see a lot of community-based teams, which is one of the things that makes us kind of unique,” he said.
The grant money will pay for materials and recruiting. Noetzel said the team is still looking for other necessities including tools and transportation to and from robotics events.
A kickoff event is slated for Jan. 5 at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where teams from across the Chicago area will learn the guidelines of the competition.
After that, the team — led by Noetzel and a pair of IIT students — will begin engineering and building a machine to pit against other area teams in a regional competition hosted at the University of Illinois at Chicago in April.