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Pearson has founded Shawmut Education to establish computer training
programs for the homeless.
From down and out to up and coming
|04/07/2003 08:22 AM |
He's a technology executive who
spent some of the bubble years getting around in worn shoes, not a
Beemer. While dot-com millionaires were furnishing downtown lofts,
he was being evicted from an apartment and moving into a homeless
And while he still can't afford to buy his mother a
birthday gift and lives in Section 8 housing, David Pearson,
50, is a success story. Not just because he's turned his hard luck
into accomplishment. But also because he's bringing others up with
As executive director and founder of Shawmut Education
Inc., Pearson's professional mission
these days is to �empower homeless, formerly homeless and other
at-risk individuals through the development and implementation of
computer training curriculums.� In particular, he's establishing
educational programs to train the homeless and poor how to build
their own Web sites, both in the Boston area and in
He also thinks about taking Shawmut's programs
around the globe, and one would be ill-advised to doubt his plan.
That's because Pearson has already
achieved much success following three years of homelessness and has
fine-tuned the art of networking to his advantage.
do you explain the fact that three years after moving from a
homeless shelter, he sits on the Volunteer Lawyers Project Board of
Directors, is a member of the Massachusetts Client Council, serves
on the Boston Society of Architects Task Force to End Homelessness,
is a member of the Massachusetts Adult Literacy Technology Team, is
a volunteer producer for Cambridge Community Television and an
instructor with Cambridge's Project Lift?
He's also been
keeping prestigious company. Most notably, Robert Doyle, a Harvard
Ph.D. whose resume includes founding SuperSound, development of six
electronic games including Merlin (5.5 million sold), the iXO
Telecomputer and development of Apple's first desktop publishing
Doyle allows Pearson to use his Cambridge computer lab as
Shawmut headquarters as well as the tools from his Web hosting data
center, Skybuilders, as base camp for Shawmut Education's student
Web sites. He's even traveled to Jamaica to provide Skybuilder
Web-building education as part of Shawmut's mission.
project began in 1997 when Pearson
went to Project Place for a meal and afterward walked behind it to
the �Knowledge Center.� Here he helped other clients mine computer
programs, while the executive director mentioned aloud that he
should help all of the students in the center's computer lab.
It was a comment made in passing but one that Pearson took as a challenge. He�d just picked
up a certificate in client server computer development from Clark
University while living in a shelter and began thinking that the
instructor might be onto something.
�I thought, what better
way to turn around my situation than to help others,� he said.
So he wrote a plan and a plan of attack and ran it by Hale
and Dorr attorneys at Jamaica Plain's Harvard Law Legal Services,
which incorporated his idea into the nonprofit Shawmut Education
Inc. It started as a Web-based reference of services for the
homeless and grew from there.
Pearson brainstormed, networked and trained
people daily until 10 p.m. � lights out at the shelter.
began volunteering to update calendar listings for Cambridge
Community Television, where he met Doyle, who's described by a
colleague as �a technology giant.� Doyle allowed for Shawmut to have
its first Web site, through Skybuilders, which is an open- source
Web hosting center with 150 sites around the
�Everything we needed was here,� said Pearson, who continues to work out of Doyle's
combination business lab/home when he's not working from his virtual
office. And while he's impressed the city of Boston enough to win a
20-year, $25,000-a-year Timothy Smith Grant, the money can be used
to purchase hardware, software or office furniture but not to rent
an actual office or pay utilities. And if Pearson manages to raise funds for a lab, the
physical space has to be in �old Roxbury' for him to begin spending
In the meantime, Pearson�s Shawmut Education has given one group
of homeless and poor students the skills to build and maintain a Web
site that keeps up-to-date information about food and shelter
availability throughout Massachusetts. It replaces a book that used
to be published by the city of Boston with 70 listings and stays
more current than the older hard copy, with mire than 200
�We call this capacity-building,� Doyle said.
�They're providing a tool for the community, and they can eventually
Pearson is teaching Web design to third-
through 11th-grade students at Cambridge's Moore Community Center on
older computers donated by Harvard and networked by Pearson. He's in discussions with Youth Build
of Roxbury to offer Web-building education, as well as with a New
Mexico legal services provider.
Through Shawmut's site, he's
building Web sites for shelters and leads it all with a translation
in Spanish. And in Jamaica, an old tractor-trailer cab is being
converted into a networked and mobile computer lab, which is
expected to roam the island with extended stays to teach the young
Pearson said Shawmut isn't making any money,
not even enough to pay him. He lives on $600 a month �from other
means� and in the subsidized housing. But it's not about the
�I believe this is a population that deserves a second
chance,� Pearson said. �A lot of
programs out there are about getting more money, not about teaching.
This population is often very beat-up. I feel right now this is how
I can help the best I can.�