SUGAR GROVE – When Becky Nerad Pearce put aside her previous career in graphic design and advertising to stay home with her children 22 years ago, home computers were new, and she wished they could do more.
Now that she is taking Web design classes at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Pearce, 56, not only has she found a new calling, but she also has discovered that computers are important design tools.
"I was wishing my computer could do these things,"said Pearce, a Geneva resident. "So my first year back in school, I walked around with a big smile on my face. It's incredible."
As part of her semester classwork, Pearce participated in redesigning a website for a nonprofit organization – a benefit for the charity, as well as for her skills in learning how to work with a real client.
"It was real good experience in that way," Pearce said. "It's good because it also gives back to the community, which makes you feel good."
Her instructor, assistant professor of information systems Amy Chaaban, has her website students devote a semester to redesign nonprofits' websites for free.
Organizations that benefited from a website redesign included those that help families stricken by poverty; those that provide community recreational opportunities; those that promote diversity, historical preservation and literacy; and dog and cat rescues.
Chaaban said her students have worked on about 30 websites since 2008, calling it a "win-win" on several fronts. Nonprofit organizations have a difficult enough time raising money to stay afloat, Chaaban said, so offering to boost their websites helps them and gives her students valuable work experience.
"I see such beautiful work from my students," Chaaban said. "They understand they are giving back to the community, and it makes them become a better citizen. They are the best students in the world. Look at what they have done."
Pearce and two other students, Susan Burdette, 53, of Sandwich and Olympia Mercuri, 39, of Yorkville, recently worked on the website for Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora.
Wayside Cross serves the homeless with programs, education and transitional living support and hosts ministries in Kane County Jail and for urban youth.
Birnie Harper, coordinator of annual campaign and business development for Wayside Cross, said the students’ work on the organization's website, www.waysidecross.org, was remarkable.
Harper said the three worked for about six months on its redesign.
"One of the ladies said, 'I think we ought to do this.' And I replied, 'That is a lot of work, you don't need to do that,'" Harper said. "She decided to do it anyway. I saw her a bit later, and I said, 'Thank you for not taking no for an answer.' She said, 'I'm a mother of five. I refuse to take no for an answer a lot of times.'"
She was speaking of Burdette, who also runs an at-home daycare and preschool. Burdette said more than actual Web design, having experience working with clients was helpful.
"Most of the work I do is for nonprofits," Burdette said. "It's a great feeling knowing that there is a purpose to what you're doing."
Mercuri said she already had been designing websites, so she went back to school for it.
"I got the tour from Birnie, and I decided to help them," Mercuri said of Wayside Cross. "It was a really easy decision to help them with their website."