After Six Months, Do Space Attracting a Diverse Crowd

A volunteer (left) works with Christine Ross during a Do Space laser-cutting class. (All photos by Joy Carey, NET News)
Students in a Do Space crash course practice using the laser cutter by designing a key chain with a name on it.
Jeff Urbanovsky (center) watches with his sons as the laser cutter burns out their designs for a key chain.
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April 26, 2016 - 6:45am

Do Space, Omaha’s free technology library, has been open for just under six months. The space is still adapting to demand, but in a short amount of time it’s created a diverse community all its own.


A class of 13 students – adults, teens, and kids – thought it would be awesome to make something with a laser cutter. So they’re in the heart of Omaha on a Monday night, taking a course at the city’s tech-centered library, Do Space.

Like everything at Do Space, the education is free. Tonight’s class is taught by graphic designer Terri Chappell, one of more than 200 part-time volunteers. Chappell explains to her students how to create designs on the computer, and the laser cutter will do most of the work.

One of the students is Hana Norval. Norval and her family have been interested in this popular class for a while.

Hana Norval (center) stands in the Do Space 3-D lab with family members while waiting for the laser cutter to finish their designs.

It’s taken us a long time to actually be able to register for a class instead of being put on a waiting list,” Norval said. “We probably would have come sooner if they had more spaces available.”

Executive director Rebecca Stavick says Do Space is still learning and adapting to what services are the most popular.

“When we created our programs and events we were kind of taking a stab in the dark. We weren’t really sure what the Omaha community needed,” Stavick said. “I would say we were pretty successful at guessing. I know our very first month we were caught off guard. We had two laser cutter workshops, and they both were so full we had 50 people on one wait list and 80 on another.”

Do Space is not funded by taxes. It’s a project of Heritage Services, which paid for the space by recruiting private donors. Originally, executives hoped Do Space would get 250 visitors a day. Right now, it gets about 400 a day and even more when school is out.

Frank Fu, a junior at Brownell-Talbot high school, first walked into Do Space thinking it was a technology store because of the giant screens on the exterior corner. On the inside, it’s like a spacious computer lab with classrooms, and Fu was surprised to learn it’s completely public.

Frank Fu (left) now helps as a volunteer for the same course that taught him how to use the Do Space laser cutter.

“One of the things I really love about it is I can’t believe all the classes are free, and they’re so accessible,” Fu said.

Fu took one of the Do Space laser cutting classes, and then began volunteering and experimenting. A few months ago, he started selling jewelry he makes at Do Space, bringing his own materials and using the laser cutter. 

Other patrons take advantage of Do Space’s 3-D printer, high-end software, and fast computers. Yet, for a technology library, Fu says it’s the people that make Do Space impactful.

“My most memorable experiences are the connections I’ve made there,” Fu said. “The people you meet at the Do Space, it’s diverse. And you never know if they’re going to become your next business partner or your next best friend.”

One frequent visitor to Do Space is Hans Bekale, a computer programmer with his own company Classless Agency. Bekale has an office. But he likes working at Do Space better, saying without it he’d be missing out on community.

“Some of the simplest, most innovative things I’ve thought of just happened through conversation,” Bekale said.

Bekale says Do Space has a way of bridging gaps in education, age, and experience.

Hans Bekale is a computer programmer who owns his own company. He has an office, but prefers to work at Do Space. 

“Even people that are not as tech savvy can come here to this place and not necessarily feel overwhelmed or ‘I’m not smart enough,’” Bekale said. “That’s why I think you see this very diverse community. Because we all obviously need technology. Do Space offers that accessibility to everyone.”

Mike McCarthy is on the board of directors for Heritage Services. McCarthy says appealing to a wide range of people was one of Do Space’s goals from the beginning.

“The void we were trying to fill is for those members of our community who either don’t know how to use technology or they have never had the access in the sense of being able to afford broadband speed and so forth that they need to pursue the dreams that they have,” McCarthy said.

Rebecca Stavick agrees.

“In my mind it’s all about social justice,” Stavick said. “It’s about ensuring that people in the community have opportunities to improve themselves, improve their future.”

Many Do Space patrons don’t come with a grand plan. They come for the free Wi-Fi, the software, or a particular class. Delores Hassenstab is one Do Space visitor who does not consider herself very tech savvy.

“I just thought, they probably have nothing that I can do in here, cause I’m not very technologically advanced or anything,” Hassenstab said.

Frank Fu shows a necklace and boxes he designed at Do Space.

But Hassenstab has a degenerative eye disease that is slowly stealing her vision. The disease impaired her driving, so after 32 years of delivering mail for the post office, she was forced to search for a new position. She came to Do Space to attend a small class on technology for the visually impaired.

“I saw this low-vision class, and I was like ‘you know what? I should go check that out!’ cause this is all new to me,” Stavick said. “I don’t know as far as work if they can accommodate me, and I don’t know what to tell them I need.”

Classes like the one Hassenstab took contribute to an atmosphere of inclusiveness. Frank Fu believes that through that inclusiveness, Do Space offers a vision of how to be greater as a community.

“If it wasn’t there, our lives would still go on, but it wouldn’t be a glimpse of the future,” Fu said.

In the near future Do Space wants to continue connecting with Metropolitan Community College, which owns the top half of the building. Executives say they’re happy with the progress Do Space has made so far, but the experiment still has a long ways to go before declaring complete success.

Discussion

 

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