On Tuesday Bill Coleman, Jack Geller, Ann Treacy and I continued our meetings with new partners in our ARRA-funded Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project.
We started the day with Andy Elofson, Casey Sorenson and Sam Drong at PCs for People. PCs for People takes donated computers and rebuilds, refurbishes and redistributes them to people with limited access to technology. About 85 percent of their computer recipients have never owned a computer before. Many have used computers, at a library or public kiosk, but they haven’t owned one. After receiving a computer, 85 percent of PC for People’s computer recipients sign up for broadband.
Andy, PC for People’s founder, is a social worker in his “day job.” He started PCs for People in Mankato in 1988. It started with a donation of a computer to a local teen at risk. The boy had been expelled from school and was floundering. Andy helped him get involved in computer rehab and building web sites and making plans for the future. Since then, PCs for people has distributed over 4,000 computers. They have a waiting list of over 1,000 families. (So if you’re looking to deal with an outdated computer around your house or workplace, please consider checking out their donations program.)
Workforce training is a big part of PC for People’s program. They offer job training to unemployed workers who are nearing the end of their benefits. PC for People staff help the unemployed work on general employment skills in the first few weeks and then move into computer skills, including diagnostics and repair.
Obviously, getting computers into the hands of new owners is core to PCs for People’s mission. Individuals receiving a computer are asked to provide a small donation to cover costs associated with warranties and support. They are also welcome to buy accessories at reduced rates. PCs for People also provide repairs for a flat fee of $25.
We’re looking forward to working with PCs for People but we’re also just excited to get them in contact with more people through the project, both in terms of helping them build their computer supply chairs but also to help them get more computers into the hands of new owners – especially in rural areas. Meeting with them and hearing about their project and their needs reminded us that the strongest link in the project is the relationships built through the partnership.
Tuesday afternoon we met with Jim Wroblesky, Kathy Sweeney, Anne Olsen and Judy Mortrude at DEED. I was looking forward to learning more about the Workforce Centers from some DEED insiders. There are so many moving parts to DEED it can be confusing to figure out their “org diagram.” DEED’s Workforce Centers help job seekers find employment, help businesses find workers, and help anyone at any stage explore and plan careers.
DEED operates 50 Workforce Centers across the state, and there are no charges to the recipients of their services. Our DEED partners told us a bit about a new project that they have been working on, LearnerWeb, which is a web site that compiles information for adult learners. We suggested that they be sure to talk with the folks at the Learning Commons who are working on a clearinghouse for education resources for k-20. Again, I was reminded that new connections will be a great benefit of the partnership.
The Workforce Centers will be providing outreach and recruitment for MIRC, as well as developing and delivering eight addition hours per center of digital literacy training for work seekers. We are also pleased to be able to help the Workforce Centers stay open longer hours.