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DOE's ORNL, Phone Home new partners for the future

A minority-owned small business in New York and the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are uniting to harness the power of knowledge through an innovative initiative announced today.

Through the Community of the Future Initiative (COFI), Phone Home Technologies Inc. and ORNL hope to improve the quality of life for residents of Upper Manhattan-South Bronx by linking them to a wealth of resources. The $22.6 million cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) will allow for development of an information system that draws upon resources of the community's residents, businesses and institutions.

The CRADA was announced by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel at his New York office.

"I am very excited about the unlimited potentials of this Community of the Future Initiative," Rangel said. "It is through partnerships like this that we can help people with talent and motivation achieve their dreams and realize their full potential."

Secretary of Energy Federico Pena said, "I strongly endorse using scientific capability developed by the U.S. government to afford empowerment zone communities real opportunities for growth and revitalization. Partnerships between public, private and non-profit entities will help strengthen these distressed communities."

The two-year CRADA calls for the information system to be built in modules to allow for a wide range of input. Youths in the community will also be partners in the design process and are a key component of the program. The end product will be a system that helps people gain skills needed for jobs and helps them connect with employers.

"This initiative will pioneer efforts using cutting-edge information and technology," said Myles M. Matthews, president and chief executive officer of Phone Home Technologies and a lifelong resident of Harlem. "Sixth-to-eighth-grade students will be trained in how to use COFI and, in turn, will train others in the community."

Matthews, who has devoted his career to public service, is confident Phone Home Technologies will contribute to the redevelopment of Harlem.

"COFI will offer high-bandwidth, three-dimensional interactive capabilities for community members to visualize new developments," Matthews said. "It has a module that focuses on jobs, including video training, business development, another to foster empowerment within the community and yet another for youth enrichment."

Like Matthews, Wilbert Minter of ORNL's Office of Small and Minority Business Outreach is excited about the program. "The most interesting part of COFI is that it provides inner-city businesses that are planning growth and expansion projects with vital information such as prime places to locate," Minter said. "This is a key component that has been missing from empowerment zones."

ORNL's role in the CRADA is to build computer applications for the system and to provide technical expertise needed to combine computer hardware, software and telecommunications.

"Bringing ORNL's expertise in information technologies to help the economic development of our cities is an important role for a national laboratory," said Mike Farrell, director of ORNL's Center for Global Environmental Studies.

Bruce Tonn, project manager and a member of ORNL's Energy Division, sees COFI as providing the community with a way to have an impact on revitalization issues. He describes the program as linking information science and social science to accomplish what neither can do alone.

"For youths of the inner city, COFI will provide glimpses of what it's like to be a computer programmer, or a Web page designer or an animator," Tonn said. "This isn't just a technology project. The challenge is to understand the community."

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation.