Monday, December 04, 2006

Free Geek using land fills to fill the digital divide

First of all what is Free Geek;
"FREE GEEK is a 501(c)(3) not for profit community organization that recycles used technology to provide computers, education, internet access and job skills training to those in need in exchange for community service."
Free Geek was founded in February 2000 to recycle computer technology and provide low and no-cost computing to individuals and not-for-profit and social change organizations in the community and throughout the world. Since its formation, Free Geek has recycled over 360 tons of electronic scrap and refurbished over 3,000 computer systems that are now in use by individuals and organizations in the community.

Free Geek does most of this work with volunteers (at any given time, about 200 are active). The volunteers disassemble the donated equipment and test the components, which are either recycled as electronic scrap or recycled into refurbished systems. These refurbished computers are then loaded with Open Source Software, such as GNU/Linux, Open Office, and other Free Software.

One way to say Hasta La Vista.

"People who have never even turned on a computer can come here, and in a few hours, they feel a lot better about their relationship with technology," Sano says. "Maybe it's just that they take a computer apart and learn that it's mostly made of air."
Free Geek's approach has made it a cherished hub of Portland's non-profit and social-services community. Besides providing systems to individual volunteers, the organization outfits other nonprofits and provides them with tech support. Free Geek's cooperative structure -- it governs itself through regular, democratic meetings open to all volunteers -- and relentless focus on getting computers and training to those most in need also win lots of plaudits.

"Not all of our volunteers are low-income, but many are," says Shawn Furst, Free Geek's volunteer coordinator. "By getting them computers and skills, we're helping them take a big step up in the job world. If they go through our entire computer-building program -- where they're actually doing every step of the process -- all of a sudden they're up about seven steps."

"There are other places where you can learn the same things you can learn at Free Geek," chimes in Kermit Jensen, a corporate high-tech veteran who's become an indefatigable Free Geek volunteer in retirement. "But they would charge you up to $1500 a week."

Half a decade after it started in a Portland living room, Free Geek can now back up its mission with some impressive statistics. It processes about 100 donated systems a day, and builds between 20 and 30 computers a week. All those systems go out the door -- either free to volunteers, or for as little as $25 at the organization's jumbled shop. Free Geek's in-house server, a Rube Goldberg-like contraption assembled over the years from donated equipment, has an estimated worth of over $200,000.

Free Geek
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