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Giving Back Through Digital Literacy

September 18, 2023

The first time Norman Brown interacted with a computer was in 1986. He was a “mechanic by trade” and Marine Corps member.

Norman was fixing his friend’s car while he was in the service, but the car wouldn’t start. They spoke to the car dealer, and he asked if Norman had restarted the computer.

“What does the computer have to do with the car?” Norman said he thought at the time.

Since that first interaction, Norman has become a student and a teacher in the field of computers. At MonteVerde, an AHC community in Baltimore for seniors and non-elderly residents with a disability, he teaches free computer classes for the other residents.

“Just seeing the resident's face when they learn something new that right there tells me that I've done my job,” Norman said.

Norman has lived at MonteVerde for more than 20 years. He got connected with the community and began volunteering, first as a notetaker for a blind resident taking classes at Coppin State University. In that role, he formed a relationship with a professor who encouraged him to attend school to learn for himself. Norman told the professor he wasn’t interested in psychology. Instead, he was “more into computers.”

In 2007, Norman started his college career at Baltimore City Community College. That’s also when he started teaching.

“There were times when the professor couldn’t be there, and he would send me an email and tell me, ‘Hey, can you show the students?’” Norman said. “That was the beginning right there.”

Norman earned his associate degree, and, in 2015, he began teaching computer classes at MonteVerde in the computer lab. After a long break, the classes came back in July.

Norman teaches classes for beginners up to advanced learners. He uses a computer program called Northstar Digital Literacy in his classes. Students take an assessment on their first day to determine their placement.

Norman said some students have never used computers before. For those students, he found a program called “Mousercise” to get them used to using a mouse and monitor.

Participants who show improvement and pass their classes will receive certificates at a celebration. Norman said he hopes to continue developing the advanced classes to include resume building and website design.

Norman also hosts “Meet the Tech” hours where residents can come ask him any questions they have. They can even schedule time for him to help them with their smart TVs and smartphones.

Giving back was Norman’s motivation for getting involved with the AHC community at MonteVerde. He said he has “been given so much” and wanted to give what he could.

“When I first started working with the community and advocating for the residents, it felt so good,” Norman said. “But then when I started adding to it, doing this and doing that, it made me feel that much better.”

Sitting in his office chair that he wheels from his apartment to the computer lab for every session, Norman reflected on his work.

“I love what I’m doing,” he said. “I just love what I’m doing.”


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