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Residents go online with community center

A group of 12 students initiated their studies in basic Internet and e-mail use Sunday, using donated computer time at the Air Netzone Internet cafe in Sunnyside. Four volunteers from the Humanist Center are teaching the course.

And the group may have its first returning volunteer even as the classes begin. Michelle Chiang, a 57-year-old Sunnyside from Taiwan, said she would be glad to volunteer after her four-week course is over "if I understand" how to send e-mail.

Chiang, a bank employee who has been in the United States for 25 years, said she is familiar with computers from her work, but "I don't know how to make the e-mail." The first e-mail Chiang sends will be to Nagano, she said. The next may be to her relatives in Taiwan. "I wish," she said.

The Sunnyside course is the first one offered by the Humanist Center in the neighborhood and the second one in Queens. The Humanist Center has been running the four-week cycle of classes in Jackson Heights since last summer, Nagano said.

Air Netzone, located at 47-01 Queens Blvd., allows the Sunnyside Internet ingenues to use 10 of its computer terminals at the cyber café from 10:30 to 11:30 Sunday mornings.

"On Sunday we have empty computers," Air Netzone owner Heon Lee said. "We just decided to donate."

Lee said he was glad to help, and added that he had not offered space before because no one had asked.

Air Netzone's donation was an altruistic action, said Nagano, who initially approached the cyber café's owner, offering the classes as a way to promote Internet literacy among local residents, potentially increasing demand for Air Netzone's services. She also offered him free advertising in DiverseCity, the monthly newspaper the Humanist Center publishes.

Lee donated the space and time but declined the advertising.

"He was very generous to let us the space," Nagano said of Lee.

Organizers at the Humanist Center would like students to later serve as volunteers, although they do not necessarily have to work as instructors. The Center, Nagano said, is open to "anything at all" when it comes to helping out.

The non-profit, all-volunteer community group was founded in 1996 as a way to help New Yorkers take advantage of their ethnically diverse surroundings by building bridges between cultures. The center subscribes to a neighbor-helping-neighbor humanist philosophy that Nagano said first took root in Argentina.

"But there's no central office because it's a movement," she said.

In addition to computer courses, the Humanist Center sponsors hundreds of volunteers working on education, health and culture projects in Mozambique and Bangladesh with donation drives. The group also organizes seasonal community potluck dinners.

Nagano, who works in Manhattan as an educational consultant for an organization that coordinates Fulbright scholarships, has volunteered at the Humanist Center since 1999, when she moved to Sunnyside.

The Humanist Center has an office in Jackson Heights, and Nagano said the group is looking now to set up another permanent location in Sunnyside.

Reach reporter James DeWeese at 718-229-0300, Ext. 157, or by e-mail at news@timesledger.com

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