VALDOSTA -- Jarious Gardner, 7, describes the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta's Technology Center on Toombs Street as the coolest place in town.

"I really like being able to use the computers," said the S.L. Mason Elementary School first-grader. "I play games. I also wrote my mom a letter before using one of the computers."

Thursday afternoon, club officials welcomed the Valdosta community to the Toombs Street Unit for a tour of the Technology Center.

"The mission of the (center) is to assist our kids in overcoming the technology disparity," said Amy McCurdy, director of technology. "This program will provide training for young people to allow them to become technology leaders in the community, capable of using technology and teaching others to do the same. These tools are critical to economic success and advancement."

And the children have fun, too.

The computers are equipped with the Microsoft Office 2002 suite of applications and a host of specialized Boys and Girls Club programs created to emphasize character and leadership, education and career development, the arts, health and life skills, and sports, fitness, and recreation, McCurdy added. The children are provided a variety of projects from Internet scavenger hunts to PowerPoint presentations to music editing.

The Technology Center is networked internally and externally through wireless technology and has high-speed Internet access.

The Toombs Street Unit's Technology Center features 10 new IBM computers funded with a grant from IBM and Microsoft. It also contains 10 computers previously donated by Valdosta State University's Students in Free Enterprise.

Robert Soper, executive director of the club, said state Rep. Ron Borders, state Rep. Jay Shaw, and state Sen. Tim Golden were instrumental in securing the funds necessary to renovate the Technology Center and equip it with the necessary wiring and counters.

"Thanks to (them), we were able to turn some old office space into a state of the art Technology Center," he added. "Together (with IBM and Microsoft), we are providing our youth access to cutting edge technology that they might not have the opportunity to explore otherwise."

Children at the Toombs Street Unit are divided into age groups and given designated times to work in the Technology Center each day. The center is open Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. during school. In the summer, the center will be open each day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Lake Laurie Unit is in the process of being outfitted to house another Technology Center thanks to the receipt of a second IBM and Microsoft grant.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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