At-Risk Kids Need Laptops to Learn, but Nonprofits Are Overloaded

Employees of the Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland are preparing to distribute computers to parents of students in Montgomery County who need them. (March 26, 2020)

Employees of the Woodlin Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland are preparing to distribute computers to parents of students in Montgomery County who need them. (March 26, 2020)
Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

With the majority of the United States now at home, and many of them working remotely or attending school, not only is it critical that every family member who needs a computer and Internet access is a basic necessity. For many non-profit organizations that focus on providing technology resources, this means not only providing individuals with computers and digital literacy courses, but working with other non-profit organizations to maintain an effective supply chain in a absolutely grueling time.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in the need for products and programs that enable non-profit organizations to work remotely, especially those related to communication and collaboration,” said Cameron Jones, Vice President Solutions and Services at TechSoup. Much of this includes help setting up secure access to servers in physical offices and online file storage, as well as using software such as Zoom, Microsoft Office, Docusign and Google. TechSoup also offers free webinars and blog posts to keep individuals and companies new to working remotely informed about the best practices of using these different tools.

One of the most affected demographic groups is foster and at-risk youth. Jones says they have the greatest need for computers to access online education. “There is clearly a greater need for laptops and internet connections for those who don’t have a home service […] We have received many emails from nonprofits trying to support distance learning in disadvantaged communities. “

According to Matt Cherry, Development Director at John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY), a San Francisco-based nonprofit, most foster youth in school and college don’t have their own computers. They have to rely on their school, library or friends to access it. Now that the pandemic has cut them off, they are at greater risk of falling behind academically, missing classes, or leaving school together. “Foster youths have often overcome huge obstacles to even going to university and generally do not have the family, social networks or other resources that other students can often turn to when they need help,” said Cherry. Less than 20 percent of the foster youngsters have a computer.

“From yesterday, we had sent 1,456 laptops, and 1,864 telephones, for young people in college who would otherwise not have access to their courses. We are working to release another 2,000 laptops in the coming weeks. The students pay nothing for these JBAY resources. JBAY takes the cost, about $ 175 per laptop, and coordinates the shipment. All the money goes directly to laptop purchases.

JBAY is also working closely with TechSoup and another nonprofit, iFoster, to purchase those laptops and phones. TechSoup, in turn, works closely with its technical partners such as Dell, Lenovo, HP and Mobile Beacon to find products, but since much of the production of those products is done in China, the demand for PCs is greater than what can be supplied at the moment due to the global pandemic.

Human I-T, a Southern California-based nonprofit, is seeking to meet the same need by partnering directly with school districts, other nonprofits, and individuals. Almost a week ago, Human-I-T started the process of connecting schools, colleges and students with computers. 300 laptops went to LA Community College students, and Human-IT is currently looking to give away 11,000 computers in total to the LA Community College District system in addition to trying to get more funding to give more laptops to individuals who need one. The nonprofit is constantly looking for more ways to finance or purchase laptops to meet the requests they receive daily.

To meet that need, Human-I-T enlists the help of volunteers to fix computers and sell at extremely low prices. The non-profit also provides assistance in connecting individuals and families cheap internet access, and it has one Covid-19 response fund to provide families with hotspots to access the Internet.

“About a dozen school districts, including LAUSD, LACCD and Long Beach USD, have contacted us to try to provide their students with computers and affordable internet. We want to deliver thousands of computers to these low-income students in a short amount of time, which is not an easy task, ”said Marcos Cronander, Brand Manager for Human-I-T.


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