"Microsoft came along and basically said, 'Tell us your dream,'" said Craig Sherod, president of the board of Mountain View's Day Worker Center.
The dream it turned out, was fairly modest. Six laptops with special language versions of Microsoft office arrived in a Microsoft employee's car Friday, along with a few more WiFi access points to improve Internet connectivity and eight headsets for talking on Skype and practicing English. Sherod said the center's leaders restrained themselves from asking for more than two copies of Rosetta Stone which alone cost $800, not wanting to take a gamble with someone else's money in the event that the language learning software turns out to be unpopular with the workers.
"They gave us an Xbox as well, which wasn't on our list at all," Sherod said. "For some of the workers at the Center, a computer is a very foreign thing. Maybe having a cool computer game might be a way to get them to be more comfortable around a computer, then transition to something more useful."
Some workers already have plenty of computer experience, including two the center entrusts with its computer maintenance.
"Microsoft would be willing to give us some ongoing tech support too," Sherod said. "We declined their generous offer so we could kind of do it ourselves and get the opportunity and the training for the two workers."
One of them is already getting jobs for such work informally, he added.
Workers have begun blogging on four existing computers the center received in a donation last December, said Sherod, who was happy to report that one post in particular had received 400 hits. "Now there will be more computers available for that," Sherod said, and workers will be able to get more feedback from readers.
There's been a lot of interest from workers in starting their own businesses, and "if things keep going in this direction could be we might teach something like Quickbooks," Sherod said of the accounting software. "The starting-your-own-business type thing is something we want to promote."
Sherod says the center doesn't have an "ironclad plan" for the computers, and is waiting to see what sticks with the workers. They have been offered free use of Rosetta Stone before, but weren't willing to trek to Foothill College's Cubberly campus to use it, Sherod said.
"We are not going to cut back on the in-person instruction at all," Sherod said of the center's popular volunteer-taught classes. "But sometimes workers have to go out on a job and miss class." Rosetta Stone "is kind of a way people could focus on ESL but on their own schedule."