photo: Sarah Kaplan
Sarah Kaplan had been on unemployment for three months last year but already she felt like she was "hitting a brick wall."

Kaplan had been working at University of Massachusetts on the National Service Inclusion Project and after she was laid off she started going on interviews for other positions. Kaplan was qualified for many of the jobs she interviewed for but she felt that because of her disability - Kaplan uses a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy - she wasn't being hired.

"It was very discouraging," she says. "I don't like taking handouts. I'm not on disability because I choose not to be."

Consequently, Kaplan doesn't get housing help and it became a real struggle to pay her rent.

Kaplan began to think about shifting her career focus to youth work and saw that the Cyber Café @ Malden Square, sponsored by Tri-CAP along with four other area organizations, was looking for a youth coordinator volunteer. When Kaplan came in to inquire about the position she was told there was a full time site manager position that had just opened up thanks to a stimulus award.

"My disability was never an issue," Kaplan says of the interview for the job.

In September 2009, Kaplan got the job and has not looked back. "I was very

Sarah Kaplan with client
excited to get this job. It gives me on the ground grass roots experience in an anti-poverty agency," she says. "I am directly working with clients and making a big impact. It is a very different feeling of urgency knowing I get to make that impact."

Kaplan, the only paid employee at the Cyber Café, works with between 30 to 50 clients a day, helping them learn how to use the computers, write up resumes and conduct job searches online. "The purpose here is to bridge the digital divide for the low income community in and around Malden, Medford and Everett," says Kaplan. The Cyber Café currently has 7,000 members who have used the Cyber Café since its opening in May 2001. Each member can use one of its 18 computers any time for a nominal fee.

For Kaplan, not only is she thrilled to have a job that is so "meaningful," but she also says she is convinced that she would still be on unemployment if not for this position. "It's a scary prospect," she says. "It would have been really hard to get work. I'm grateful that stimulus money was made available."