WATPA: Bridging the digital divide: Low-income families enjoy cast-off PCs

From: Norman Jacknis <norm@jacknis.com>
Date: Thu Dec 16 2010 - 15:32:45 EST

Bridging the digital divide: Low-income families enjoy cast-off PCs

Habitat for Humanity teams up with an IT asset recovery firm to put PCs in
the homes of families who need them

By Todd R. Weiss

December 16, 2010


Since 1976,
Habitat for Humanity has been helping low-income families across the U.S.
build and buy affordable homes to help improve their lives and futures. But
today, despite having nice bedrooms, kitchens, living rooms and the rest,
most of Habitat's houses are missing an essential 21st century tool that's
likely present in the homes of most middle- and upper-income families -- a
computer where family members can do schoolwork, learn, pay bills and expand
their horizons.

For many low-income families, just having a nice place to live is the answer
to a lot of prayers, but E.J. Thomas, CEO of the
<http://www.habitatcolumbus.org/> Habitat chapter in Columbus, Ohio, still
didn't like the idea of a home without a computer.

"Helping these families to be successful involves a lot of different
things," Thomas says. "Helping the children of those families to bridge the
digital divide is hugely important."

Thomas wanted to find a way to get computers into the homes Habitat builds.
"Imagine a child who has never been exposed to computers and who is all at
once thrust into a new environment in school that is intimidating," he says.
"Without having a computer at home, they are so far behind. Trying to look
at the world through their eyes is what gave us the drive to do something."

And last year that "drive to do something" led Habitat to partner with
<http://www.redemtech.com/> Redemtech Inc., a Columbus-based IT asset
recovery business that helps large companies
p_just_not_always> recycle or resell their old computer equipment.

The three- or four-year-old computers that are cast aside as businesses
cycle through IT "refreshes" often have plenty of life left in them. So
Habitat and Redemtech now refurbish some of those pre-owned machines, equip
them with licensed Microsoft Windows and Office software, and distribute
them to Habitat families who applied for them.

And that's not all. The program also includes professional setup of the PCs,
90 days of tech support and training to make sure the family members know
how to use their new computers.

"We don't just call everybody and say, 'Come in and get your computer,'"
Thomas says. "The requirements are for people to come in and take some
classes so we can be sure it's going to be used. We don't want it to be a

After a successful pilot project last year, the Columbus Habitat chapter and
Redemtech have formalized the program and now are helping to expand it to
other Habitat chapters across the nation.

So far, about 75 Habitat families in the Columbus area have received free
PCs, says Thomas.

What's currently not included is Internet access; the families have to
obtain that on their own. However, Thomas says that Habitat is trying to
find services through which the families can receive free or low-cost
Internet connections.

Window of Opportunity

Eliana Gomez moved into a Habitat home in Columbus last December. It's the
first home that Gomez, a native of Mexico, has ever owned. Her family also
received a computer through the Habitat-Redemtech program, and she says that
she and her three children find the machine extraordinarily helpful.

"My 8-year-old uses it more than anybody. He likes to do his homework on the
computer. He knows how to use it, and he's teaching me sometimes," she says.
"My daughter, she is 2, likes to play Dora on the computer."

Gomez says her family hasn't been able to afford Internet access yet, but
the PC is nonetheless giving her children opportunities that they didn't
have before. And for her part, she says, learning to use the computer at
home is opening doors to new opportunities at work. Her employer has asked
her to be a manager, and she's working on her computer skills to reach that
goal, she says.

"I didn't know how to use a computer," she says. "I go to classes. I like to
do that."

Companies that donate old computers make more money through tax savings than
they would by simply selling their unneeded equipment, says Robert Houghton,
president of Redemtech. The companies making the donations pay Redemtech to
refurbish and redistribute the equipment, at a cost that's lower than what
they would end up spending if they tried to donate the machines on their
own, he says.

Redemtech has set up its own internal program called the
<http://www.redemtech.com/seriousgood/default.aspx> Serious Good project to
promote the fact that businesses that donate their old IT equipment can
enjoy increased tax benefits while helping low-income families.

How innovative is the Serious Good Program? In a recent
<http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?id=1488127> research note, IT
analyst firm Gartner Inc. said the program could truly help businesses find
better ways to donate old gear. "Gartner has long advised enterprises to be
cautious when donating used IT equipment to charitable organizations,
because the process can be labor-intensive and requires careful planning,
asset preparation and documentation," while exposing donor companies to
significant liability if the recipient organization subsequently fails to
dispose of the equipment properly, Gartner wrote.

The Serious Good initiative can mitigate those types of risks, according to
Gartner, because Redemtech acts as an intermediary to "streamline the
process from end to end, minimizing end-of-life liability risk by including
no-charge recycling as a standard part of the process, and ensuring the
recipient gets a high-value, working asset. These relatively low-risk IT
asset donations can be attractive to an enterprise's corporate social
responsibility area."

But beyond just helping with tax breaks and making companies feel good that
their old computer equipment is being put to good use, the bottom line is
that families truly benefit from the Habitat-Redemtech project, Houghton

"Habitat has changed the paradigm so that safe, affordable housing has to
include a computer," he says. "They've identified that eliminating that
digital exclusion is a necessary part of setting up a family in one of their

Waste Not, Want Not

Redemtech is one of a host of companies that recycle or resell used
enterprise IT equipment and have programs to help businesses pass their old
machines on to people who could use them.

 <http://www.cascade-assets.com/> Cascade Asset Management LLC in Madison,
Wis., helps its clients to wipe data and recondition machines that are given
to charities, day-care centers and other groups. Cascade is also involved in
the Chicago-based Youth Technology Project, which works with high school
students to rehab and recondition equipment and then sends the machines and
students to Mexico, where they train people to use them.

Another company, Austin-based <http://www.techturn.com/> TechTurn Inc.,
helps Fortune 1,000 companies recycle their equipment. That includes
rehabbing some machines and donating them to various groups and individuals.
TechTurn also collects defective returned equipment from big-box retailers
and then refurbishes and donates it to low-income users on behalf of its
business clients.

"The best form of recycling is re-use," says Daran Herrman, TechTurn's
manager of marketing and public relations.

Todd R. Weiss is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter (
<http://twitter.com/techmantalking> @TechManTalking) or write to him at
<mailto:toddrweiss@gmail.com> toddrweiss@gmail.com.


Received on Thu Dec 16 15:32:53 2010

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