Ken Carlson Boys & Girls Club Salvation Army

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Almost half of U.S. households earning less than $50,000 a year lack Internet access at home. And many families in Forsyth County earn much less than $50,000 a year.

The gift from the Jim and Cheryl Caldwell Foundation to The Salvation Army Ken Carlson Boys and Girls Club in Winston-Salem doesn’t change that – but it does give some local young people more opportunities for online learning after school.

Jim Caldwell, the quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens and a former head football coach at Wake Forest University, was back in Winston-Salem last week to open a “Project Phoenix Learning Center” at the Ken Carlson club on Reynolds Park Road. The learning center is actually a computer lab that was newly equipped and doubled in size through the Caldwell Foundation’s gift.

“In the Salvation Army world, this is the best computer lab I have ever seen,” said Maj. James Allison, the area commander of The Salvation Army.

This is the first such center that the Caldwell Foundation has established in North Carolina and only its fourth in the nation. Salvation Army officials estimate the value of Caldwell’s contribution at about $70,000.

Jim Caldwell said that while growing up in Beloit, Wis., he spent many days at the local Boys Club learning valuable life lessons and practical principles that continue to serve him today.

“My wife and I had always looked for ways to give back to the community,” Caldwell, who coached at Wake Forest from 1993 to 2000, said in an interview last week.

“There are certainly a lot of great causes out there,” he said, but he explained that he and his wife wanted to focus their efforts on technology as a tool to help close the achievement gap, especially in underserved communities.

The center includes 20 new desk-top computers, a “smart board” and other specialized interactive instructional software. The foundation also paid for desks and chairs in the center, for rewiring to handle the new equipment, and for training for staff members who will closely supervise the young people who use the lab.

Students in the club’s after-school program will use the computers for homework projects, said Sylvia Adams, the executive director of The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs. Up to 185 children a day ages 5 to 18 come to the Ken Carlson club after school, with some of them staying as late as 7:30 in the evening.

“They have figured a way to make sure that every kid who needs to be in here gets in here,” Adams said.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, released in July, reported that 42 percent of U.S. householders with income of less than $50,000 lack Internet access at home. The Census Bureau doesn’t break the numbers down any further than that, so the percentages aren’t available for households earning, for example, $25,000 a year or $15,000 a year.

In Forsyth County, median household income was $37,501 last year, according to figures from the 2011 American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau released in September.

Adams said that the story behind the gift began when the club invited Jim Caldwell to speak at its annual fundraiser in 2010. Months later, the club got more than it had asked for: Cheryl Caldwell requested a tour of the club in connection with the computer lab.

“Before she left that day, she told us it was a done deal,” Adams said. “For her to say it was a done deal was pretty exciting.”

Jim Caldwell, who also formerly coached the Indianapolis Colts, said he’s happy to have the Winston-Salem Phoenix Center join the three others he has already established in Indiana.

“It’s going to have a direct impact for young people who don’t have access to technology outside the school,” he said.

Chris Shoop