The drive to Blueprints’ Washington Headquarters from the North Hills of Pittsburgh has become part of Mike Smialek’s weekly routine since 2015.
When Mike had the option to choose early retirement, he jumped at the opportunity! Shortly after making the decision to retire, he realized he was becoming bored. “You know you can only watch so many episodes of the Young and the Restless, it’s pretty repetitive” said Smialek, “ so I went to volunteermatch.com and here popped up an ad for Blueprints, well for Community Action Southwest at the time, and they were looking for someone to teach computer classes.”
Blueprints offers free computers classes at its Computer Learning Center in the City of Washington. The classes are for lower income adults interested in enhancing their skills for employment or educational opportunities.
The classes include Basic Computer Skills, Internet Skills, Email Skills, Keyboarding, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. But Smialek felt he could offer so much more to Blueprints’ clients.
After serving in the Navy, Mike worked in the computer industry for 40 years doing programming, systems analysis, teaching, and computer architecture design. He was also a part-time adjunct faculty member at a community college for 17 years. During that time he taught computer programming classes, so this opportunity was right up is alley.
“In my class at Blueprints, I had a gentleman say to me, ‘Is it possible to look up parts for my lawn mower online? How do you do that?’ These are the questions I want my students to bring to me. I want them to feel comfortable with asking uncomfortable technology questions so I can help them not only in their path to employment, but in everyday life skills.”
In Mike’s experience as a volunteer at Blueprints, he believes people are doing the right thing to better their lives by starting with his classes to better their skills. Mike says that perseverance is key to becoming not only competent with technology, but to be marketable to the company you work for at any level. He encourages his students to continue to apply themselves. “The job market is hard right now, especially for older adults” said Smialek. “The students in my classes at Blueprints have dedication, potential, and drive. I just provide them with the skills they need.”
To ensure success, Mike uses handouts that give detailed, step-by-step instructions, with pictures, that students can take with them. This gives them the knowledge to be able to do the work on their own, not just follow along with the teacher. But more than computer skills, Mike also brings compassion and encouragement to his classes. People come to Blueprints’ Computer Learning Center for different reasons; some are between jobs, while others need to freshen up their resume. No matter their situation, Mike teaches them to show initiative and encourages them to learn new skills to impress new employers.
Aside from Blueprints, Mike has also volunteered with PA CareerLink®, Carnegie Library, Goodwill, Junior Achievement, and Vintage Senior Center.
Every year varies, but overall, Mike enjoys the work. “It’s been very rewarding. Bottom line is, it’s been a good experience,” he said. “It keeps me busy…my wife likes it because it gets me out of the house,” he added with a laugh.
Having Mike as part of the Blueprints family has been a blessing. “The key to what Mike is able to do in our computer classes, is making all of our Blueprints participants feel comfortable with their skill level. In a class with varying skill levels, he is able to engage the entire class while also addressing one-on-one issues” said Abigail Stark, Building Futures Supervisor at Blueprints. “Participants often praise his instructional style and seek to attend all of the classes for his knowledge and humor.”
Blueprints offers free classes at its Computer Learning Center in the City of Washington for lower income adults interested in enhancing their skills for employment or educational opportunities.
The classes taught include Basic Computer Skills, Internet Skills, Email Skills, Keyboarding, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. All of the classes are taught by volunteers and are held between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The classes are part of the agency’s continuum, designed to serve clients in a comprehensive fashion. Addressing education, employability, skills, housing and asset development, while creating opportunities and providing support to break barriers and build futures is the framework in which client success is realized at Blueprints.
If you’re interested in learning more about Blueprints, are interested in computer classes or would like to volunteer, please visit their website at www.myblueprints.org.