Local company bridging digital divide

February 5, 2010 3:53:34 PM PST
A local program is keeping computers out of landfills and putting them into the hands of needy school children. Safely disposing of computers and other electronic equipment can pose problems for most consumers. Now a local company is taking old computers and making them fit for students and others in need. It's an endeavor that both useful and green.

Joshua Zatkin-Steres is dropping off an old computer at PC Rebuilders and Recyclers which operates a program called Computers for Schools.

"It's very wasteful to just dispose of a computer in like a landfill or chuck it. If it can be used at all, even in part, I think that's really valuable," said Zatkin-Steres.

The company removes the hard drive and runs it through a program to wipe it clean. The previous owner is then emailed a confirmation report.

"It just gives them peace of mind that there's no way any of their information is compromised," said Michellle Tesauro-Jones, PC Rebuilders and Recyclers.

Hard drives that fail to erase through the computer program are manually destroyed. The computers then go to the warehouse area to be refurbished.

"We take in about 20,000 computers a year and we're able to get 5,000 of those that meet our quality standards that we can put out for schools, not-for-profits and homes of at-risk children," said Willie Cade, founder, PC Rebuilders and Recyclers.

The family of any Chicago Public Schools student can purchase a refurbished computer for a starting price of $165. Non-CPS students qualify depending on the number of students in their school who qualify for free lunch.

"We actually give it a three-year hardware warranty. We also give them an 800-number that they can call when they have questions and problems and we put all the software on it that they would want as a beginning user," said Cade.

Most of the drop-offs come from corporations as they switch out old materials -- including TVs and cell phones. They often have a more computers on hand than they have schools and families requesting them.

"We bridge the digital divide," said Cade.

One program they install as standard on these computers allows students to take any text from anywhere and have the computer read it aloud. So if a student is having trouble reading, he or she can cut and paste text and practice reading along with the computer.

If you'd like more information about the Computers for Schools program, visit www.pcrr.com.