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Computer Distribution to Help Low-income Families in the Twin Cities

June 1, 2015

By Josh Katzenmeyer, CTEP AmeriCorps Member

At the beginning of our service year a group of CTEP AmeriCorps members and I banded together to plan an event to provide low cost computers to 100 low-income students at the Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning in St. Paul. The refurbished desktop computers are sold by PCs for People, and we’ve been working hard to help subsidize the costs for students participating in our June 12th computer give-away event at the HubbsCenter.

So far we have successfully raised over $500 dollars through an online fundraising campaign and a host of recycling events. Between these two events,community members in St. Paul donated operating laptops and cell phones, inkjet and toner cartridges, and assorted electronics. By reselling some of our haul through Funding Factory (an online recycle-for-cash platform) and Craigslist, we’ve been able to make use of electronics that were otherwise collecting dust in basements. This is all in an effort to help resolve digital access issues in the Twin Cities area.

According to the City of Minneapolis’ 2014 Community Technology Survey, 72% of residents surveyed claimed an internet connection at home was essential and 69% stated that having a working computer was equally important. It should come as no surprise that the majority of residents surveyed have access to a computer with working internet at home. Despite this, in Minneapolis alone there are roughly 24,000 households that do not.

Access to computers is often a reflection of race, class, age, and education. Access to a working computer and internet connection at home dropped significantly for those earning less than $50,000 per year, while those aged 55 and older were least likely to even use the technology. Regarding race, 6% of whites didn’t have any access to the internet in their household, compared to 24% of African Americans.

It can be easy to suggest that visiting the local library to use its Wifi connection would be the easiest solution. But there’s no denying that this still places many of those without access at home at a disadvantage. In an increasingly digital world where so much information can rest at our fingertips, I often take for granted all that I can learn by doing what—for me—is a simple, spontaneous search of the internet. Those without computers at home are robbed of this spontaneity. Applying for jobs requires coordinating a way to the library. For youth, doing homework at home isn’t always an option when many assignments require access to a computer.

That’s why we have organized our computer distribution event, where our first 50 qualifying students will come to purchase desktop computers and receive assistance applying for reduced cost internet subscriptions through Comcast and Century Link. They will also have the opportunity to attend educational workshops on internet safety and basic computer skills.

Access is one of the first steps to achieving true digital equity. Our hope is that by purchasing a refurbished computer for the home, students will have the opportunity to explore and further develop their computer skills. Indeed, access to a computer is a resource that many of us take for granted.

Josh Katzenmeyer is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota’s English program. Serving as a CTEP member, he offers technology courses at the Adult Education Center Columbia Heights/Fridley.