By Jessica Lyons
Darren Heiber, Hardware Grants and Education Coordinator of Free Geek, recently explained to Study.com how Free Geek is bringing computer education and equipment to its community.
Study.com: What is your mission and how do you work to fulfill that mission?
Darren Heiber: Free Geek's mission is to recycle technology and provide access to computers, the Internet, education and job skills in exchange for community service. We work tirelessly to fulfill our mission by doing everything we can to encourage environmental responsibility when it comes to e-waste, community involvement through community service and self-motivated learning through our various classes and volunteer opportunities.
Study.com Through your Hardware Grants Program, non-profit organizations, such as schools, are able to get refurbished PCs. How can receiving these computers impact a school?
DH: We recently ran an article in our newsletter that speaks to this very question. By leveraging the power of community support, we are able to ease the costly burden of technology adoption in schools. This, in turn, makes it possible for schools to put more money directly into the education of students. We have also been able to give hardware grants to individual teachers and school-related programs like robotics clubs, making it easier for them to focus on their core interests and duties instead of wondering how they might be able to afford the necessary technology to teach in this digital age.
Study.com Another component of Free Geek's work is providing computer classes. What are the benefits of receiving a computer education?
DH: In 2012, our all-volunteer educators taught just under 1,500 students through our regularly scheduled classes. These classes included basic introductions to the Linux operating system (including how to set up your computer at home on your own), job search skills, how to get your business or hobby online, various graphics programs, Internet safety and so much more. The benefits of these classes are as varied as the course offerings and students. We've had several students comment about how powerful it was to publish their first websites or use their skills to create art and be successful in work-related projects as a result of these classes. Along with our classes, we offer tech support (also powered by volunteers) to almost everyone who receives a computer from us. Knowing that you are supported by the education and tech support programs as you explore the world of computers makes it easier for people to try new things without worrying that they're going to break something.
Study.com Your Build Program also gives volunteers a chance to learn how to actually build their computers. How do volunteers react to getting to learn how to build a computer?
DH: Our Build Program is one of the most amazing aspects of Free Geek. Many volunteers come in to our 24-hour Adoption Program, where they are given a free computer after donating 24 hours of their time. They then decide to join the Build Program after seeing how easy, informative and fun it can be. The Build Program is a three-part process, where volunteers learn from and support each other throughout. Because we do so much to encourage community learning, and ensure there are knowledgeable staff and volunteers available at all times, even those who never thought they would be comfortable using a computer, much less building one, are able to be successful.
Study.com K-12 students in Portland who complete 24 hours of community service in one year can receive free computers from Free Geek through the Plug into Portland Program. How did this program come about?
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DH: A few years ago Dan Saltzman, Portland City Commissioner, had a chance to learn about the good work we were doing at Free Geek to promote computer reuse and education. He understood that it made sense for the City of Portland to connect with us to help reduce the amount of e-waste the city was seeing, as well as help the students of Portland. We were able to secure a contract with the city that funneled their computers into our program in exchange for a promise that we would do our best to reuse those systems for Portland residents, with a special emphasis on our students. As a result, we created the Plug Into Portland program where students could volunteer their time in any way that benefited their community and get a computer as a result.
Study.com Why do you think it's important to recognize students who are taking part in some sort of community service?
DH: Because community service is so important to us, we made sure to include it in our mission statement. We are lucky to be in a position where we can foster service while also encouraging reuse and environmental responsibility. It seems that, in the past, it could be difficult to incite youth to take a more active role in their communities. At that time, the enticement of a computer could be the thing that would foster this proactive behavior. It seems, though, that youth are more and more engaged in finding ways to participate meaningfully in their communities. Contrary to what some may believe, I think the Internet, and the greater awareness of a larger world that comes with Internet access, has fostered more community awareness among our youth. If that truly is the case, this is a powerful program because it creates a feedback loop that allows for greater access to information which encourages more civic responsibility.
Study.com How can our readers get involved and help support Free Geek?
DH: If you live in the area, please come down to volunteer, take classes, donate your old hardware and/or purchase reused items from our thrift store. If you're not in the greater Portland area, we would love it if you considered starting a similar organization in your own area. We have done our best to be transparent and make it easy for others to learn from our successes and failures by putting many of our documents online on our wiki and mailing lists. We are an almost 100% self-funded organization thanks to the generous support of our community. If you're able to make a financial contribution, you can be sure it will go to our outstanding educational and environmental programs.
Study.com has made a donation to support the work being done by Free Geek. Visit their website to find out how you can make a difference too.
The Kilgoris Project has also used technology to help with education, such as by providing Kindles to a village in Kenya.