For the February addition of our monthly Lunch & Learn series, the Avea Solutions staff had the opportunity to learn more about Free Geek, a Portland-based nonprofit dedicated to closing the digital divide in Portland. Sara Rasmussen, a digital inclusion fellow at Free Geek, spoke to us about the organization’s mission and how its employees and volunteers are working to achieve it.
According to Ms. Rasmussen, 43% of the U.S. population don’t feel comfortable using a computer, and 27% don’t even own one. In Portland specifically, 10% don’t have direct online access at home, and must rely on outside facilities like community centers and libraries for their internet needs. This percentage is largely made up of lower-income families, the elderly, disabled individuals, refugees and people of color. “We see this as a growing gap between all the people who are rushing ahead with all the amazing digital products that are out there, and all the people who are being left behind,” Ms. Rasmussen said.
Free Geek works toward achieving digital equity, the idea that everyone deserves access to a desktop or laptop computer with a solid internet connection at home to more easily apply for jobs, pay bills, and perform other essential activities. The organization works to attain this goal by both refurbishing technology donated by local organizations and businesses, and by offering classes that allow those with limited computer experience to learn vital digital skills.
All Free Geek programs are completely run by volunteers, and serve individuals affected by behavioral health and mental health-related issues. In return for logging 24 hours of work at Free Geek, volunteers are eligible to take home their own refurbished computer. Ms. Rasmussen said in 2016 alone, Free Geek gave away 43,000 pieces of technology, including almost 500 desktop and laptop computers.
When asked what aspect of working at Free Geek has been most impactful for her, Ms. Rasmussen said “that moment when you give someone their first computer. It’s really special.”
The Free Geek Lunch & Learn is just the latest examples of our AveaCares initiative, a program created to help those in our community affected by behavioral and mental health issues, and to support technology-related organizations working to do the same.
The Avea staff is excited to do their part to help Free Geek in their mission, and is scheduled to take an introductory class later this month to learn the necessary repair skills to become recurring volunteers.
For more information on Free Geek, visit freegeek.org.