The Jefferson Express will be traveling to rural areas in Jefferson and Lewis counties, bringing with it a piece of the community college campus.
The initiative is a grant-funded program that will allow Jefferson Community College to take skills and job training programs to areas of the north country where people may not even have easy Internet access.
"Bringing this to them allows us to close the digital divide," said Jill M. Pippin, JCC's dean for continuing education. "The main point is to get folks to have broadband access so they can learn to use and search for jobs. Economically speaking, having that connection is quite important in order for people to take part in the global and local economy."
The college's continuing education division officially launched the Jefferson Express, a mobile computer training lab, Tuesday afternoon at the North Side Improvement League in Watertown.
A similar launch event will take place at 1:30 p.m. today at the Lewis County Courthouse, 7660 State St., Lowville.
The college received a two-year $255,000 broadband grant last year from the U.S. Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The grant funds a van, laptop carts, 1.5 staff positions to do computer training in rural areas, upkeep of the technology, and marketing and administration costs over two years.
The non-credit training will take place in rural communities in Jefferson and Lewis counties. The training sessions will focus on some computer programs, customer service and conflict management. There will be job search skills for people who are seeking jobs and small-business applications such as budgeting and website management.
A schedule of workshops is being finalized. So far, discussions about locations have included Dexter, Clayton and Lowville, Ms. Pippin said.
The program will be available to just about anyone who is interested: job seekers, small-business owners and employees, and senior citizens and young people who want to improve their skills. A fee will be required for participants in most of the workshops, said Karen J. Freeman, college public relations officer.
Providing a convenient opportunity for people who live in the most rural areas is one of the biggest benefits of the program, Ms. Pippin said.
"Sometimes it borders on hardship sending folks to campus to get training. It really is difficult. This will especially give opportunities to the job seekers who don't have money for gas," she said. "This is a great way to support our rural communities. For someone who lives in Lyons Falls, getting to Watertown for training isn't going to be very easy."
The college is partnering with the WorkPlace and the Small Business Development Center to offer the workshops. The college also is working with the Greater Watertown Chamber of Commerce and the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce to get the word out to small businesses about the training programs.
The grant expires in September 2012, and it's unclear whether the Jefferson Express program will continue past then. It depends on the success of the program and the financial situation at that point. But the college will keep the equipment that was purchased with the grant money, including the van.
"Our hope is that it's a successful initiative and that we can sustain it in the long run," said Craig D. Johnson, JCC vice president for community engagement. "With this, we're able to take education to the broader community and get them skills they need to make their lives better."