I am pleased to post this story of a Blandin Foundation supported project, PC4P Youth Project. They are an affiliate of PCs for People. They are able to build upon the work of PCs for People yet have customized their project to suit their local needs. It’s fun to hear about their success and the lessons they have learned…
The PC4P Youth Project @ TheShop (PC4P) seeks to help bridge the digital divide within our rural communities, increase broadband use and safety protocols to low income families and individuals, and teach marketable skills to at risk youth in our communities. As one of four regional affiliates our focus is refurbishing donated computers using Microsoft protocols. Each PC is then “sold” to low-income families and individuals. In addition, purchase of a PC4P computer entitles recipients to reduced Internet access through our local Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) service provider for up to 6 months.
It is difficult for middle class households to understand not having a computer in their homes for personal and professional use. Yet the inability to own a personal home computer reminds us of the gaps in opportunities between those with and those without. 21st century skill development is necessary to navigate worlds in education, tele-health, employment, community connections, etc. The issue of poverty is one motivation for involvement by organizations and individuals.
Internet access remains an issue and will keep our most marginalized citizens attempting to use their prepaid cell phones as their personal computers. This broadband message by local, state and federal entities keeps the PC’s for People Youth Project viable and important. Computers can often be a social catalyst for both youth and the families who receive them.
We believe that low-income families deserve the best equipment we can offer. And youth new to computer refurbishing do well with quality computers as teaching tools. We have learned that we can no longer take a pile of junk and spend time building new computers. This was the working model we took over from the first Brainerd PC’s for People Program. We now have computers on the shelves and can be more discerning between systems we refurbish those most suited to recycle. These systems do not need a long shelf life. They need a home.
One of the selling points for having a home computer remains accessibility to the Internet. We found this was more difficult than originally thought. Consolidated Telephone Company (CTC) was our major collaborator for Internet access offered reduced prices to our PC4P customers. Yet many of our most economically disadvantaged areas are not serviced by CTC or many of our customers did not have the required credit history to be approved for service. This left our desktop systems obsolete for those who needed to visit the library, CLC, school and TheShop to get free WiFi. Because of these barriers we decreased our incentive for reduced Internet and began appealing to the community for usable laptops for those without Internet at home.
As an affiliate of the St Paul Based PC’s for People we follow their protocol and this has helped us to build a base and a starting point. St Paul has a great program and we are not re‐inventing too many wheels in our infancy.
When we agreed to take over the project the area at Central Lakes College in Staples needed to be cleared before we were fully ready to proceed. Having time to run through all steps before gathering youth into the process is a must. Poor people do not need poor quality electronics. I would recommend time be put into gathering an inventory of high quality donations to assist in quick turn around times for youth and for families needing computers.
This project is growing and will become a project that may be replicated by others who work with at risk youth. We have the support of a capacity building VISTA working directly to help us meet our goals of bringing a sustainable project into the community. As we grow we will help more families close the digital divide and teach more youth skills to carry with them. We might eventually even outgrow the space and need to relocate. For now we remain grateful for the goodness we have had with the foundation and the support we have within the community.
Positive mentoring for at risk youth takes many forms. We believe the PC’s for People Youth Project @ TheShop helps youth and our community grow as we begin working together and envision youth not only as assets but as out future as well.