The Cyber Café @ Malden Square located at 110 Pleasant St. will officially close its doors on Friday, March 6. Organizers say it’s an unfortunate ripple effect caused by the financial woes suffered by Tri-City Community Action Program, Inc (Tri-CAP).
Launched in 2001 by a partnership of several local organizations called the Community Technology Access Coalition, the Cyber Café served the city’s unconnected with Internet and computer access for a low membership fee.
Loretta C. Kemp, acting executive director of the Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-CAP), says the closing of the Cyber Café @ Malden Square is a direct casualty of the Tri-CAP situation. “Tri-CAP used other revenue because of grant shortfalls in actual operating expenses to keep services and programs going which led to a deficit that was undetected until the last year and a half,” she explains. “Efforts to lessen the deficit and develop additional revenues proved to be insufficient.”
Kemp says the Cyber Café relied on Tri-CAP for funding. “Unfortunately, the Cyber Café @ Malden Square has been running without any grant funding but through contributions of the partners, with Tri-CAP making up the difference.” She continues, “In the current situation, there are no funds for Tri-CAP to continue to do this.”
Kemp says the news is devastating because the center was set up to bridge the “digital divide,” a term which describes how low income people have comparatively limited technological access.
“The Cyber Café was designed to give those who couldn’t afford home computers or who otherwise have limited access to have a place to which they could come for various purposes,” Kemp explains. “We recognized that often low-income people, the elderly, people with disabilities become isolated and this was a way they could connect with others, including communicating with relatives that might be at some geographical distance.”
Kemp remarks that the role of Cyber Café transformed since opening at its earlier location near the corner of Pleasant and Main Streets but continued to serve the Malden community.
“A difference over the years was expanding the resources of the Cyber Café to encourage job-related activities such as resume help or job searches,” she explains. “The Cyber Café Training Room was a community resource for other organizations and program divisions within Tri-CAP to hold trainings.”
Kemp has fond memories of Cyber Café @ Malden Square’s early days. “The first year the Mobile Embassy used the Cyber Café at the invitation of the Moroccan American Civic and Cultural Association (MACCA) that had offices at the Cyber Café and there was a line of people outside the door. It was a wonderful site,” she emotes. “More recently we have held luncheons for the annual homeless count in the Cyber Café. These annual counts help document that very real need for homeless services and homelessness prevention activities.”
The acting Tri-CAP executive director says support from MATV, The Career Place and Murray Learning Associates kept the center running in its final years. “The primary need were operational funds and all non-profits are struggling to find increasingly scarce resources but organizations such as MATV, The Career Place, and Murray Learning Associates provided the resources they had to keep the Cyber Café going,” she says.
Anne D’Urso-Rose, associate director of MATV, says the news of its closing is heartbreaking.
“MATV has been a key partner in the Community Technology Access Coalition (CTAC) from the beginning. In fact, an earlier version of the Cyber Café was started at MATV in the late 1990s and the project idea grew from there with Tri-CAP becoming the lead collaborative agency,” says D’Urso-Rose. “As Malden’s Media Center, we’re concerned with access to all media technology, including computers and the Internet. Being a partner at the Cyber Café helped us to serve a population that we otherwise might not reach. The Cyber Café often operated ‘under the radar’ in the community. It was quietly serving the needs of so many folks in the community that sorely needed those services. The staff and board of MATV is so saddened by its closing.”
Claire A. Murray echoes D’Urso-Rose’s sadness, adding that the closing is two months shy of their 14-year anniversary. “I’m deeply grateful to the many volunteers who have contributed thousands of hours of service to the community. More than 8,000 people became members,” Murray emotes. “Others were guests, volunteers, and visitors. In addition to the partner organizations, several businesses made silent contributions of food and beverages, time and equipment. It has truly been a community effort. Tri-CAP, as the major funder and overseer, made this possible. We could not have done this without them.”
How does Kemp want Cyber Café @ Malden Square to be remembered? “As a model for how all segments of the community came to together to make the Cyber Café @ Malden Square a reality and that we continued to be a place where people could have their needs met and where everyone was respected and treated as a true patron,” she says. “Where ‘Coffee. Computers. Companionship’ was the rule of the day.”