In a 3,000-square-foot space behind Construction Junction, in North Point Breeze, volunteers sit among boxed-up computers on old Home Depot shelving, and they split duties between disassembling and refurbishing Macs and PCs.
“We only want computers that work. Then we erase them and put educational software on them,” says Dave Sevik, executive director of Computer Reach, a nonprofit that refurbishes computers for nonprofits that serve low-income individuals in the U.S. and worldwide.
In another room, volunteers are stationed at 10 work benches equipped with monitors and ethernet cords.
“These computers were just donated from a local business, and we’ve immediately erased all of the software and put free Linux on it,” Sevik says.
This Sat., Feb. 27, Computer Reach will donate 250 refurbished machines, equipped with software in Spanish — iMac G-3s, “the colorful ones that look like candy,” he says — to Colombia en Pittsburgh, a nonprofit serving Latinos in Pittsburgh that will distribute them to low-income families. The initiative is called the Good Home Project.
- Photo by Ashley Murray
- Kevin Driscoll, of Computer Reach, and volunteer Pietro Curigliano work on refurbishing computers.
Once the computer reaches a family’s home, Sevik and his team will begin follow-up calls, asking whether the family was able to set up the computer and connect it to the Internet.
“They have to agree to be in our study,” says Sevik. “We call it a lending library, where they don’t own the computer. But as long as they’re going to use it and be in our user study and it makes a difference in their lives, they can have it as long as they want. When they don’t want it anymore, they have to give it back and [we] give it to someone else.”
Sevik says the user study about how the families use the computer will help his organization apply for future funding.
“[Our organization] tries to provide information online, and they respond to us that they don’t have a computer at home,” says Ella Serrato of Colombia en Pittsburgh, which does educational and philanthropic work in Colombia and for Colombians in the city. She’s leading the distribution effort.
Originally, Serrato was working with Computer Reach to ship the machines to poor families in Colombia, but she ran into issues with customs.
“So now we are trying to donate them here in the Latino community,” Serrato says. “The people who we are going to give computers to, they don’t have access to the Internet.”
Many of the families migrating to Pittsburgh now are coming from Mexico and Central America. Pittsburgh used to see a lot of immigrants from South America — and educated professionals, like doctors and professors, says Rosamaria Cristello, of the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood, which connects immigrants to services.
(Though the Latino community is roughly 2 percent of Allegheny County’s population, Cristello says it grew 71 percent between 2000 and 2010.)
She says mainly these immigrants are working in construction, restaurant service and housekeeping.
“There’s definitely a need. The cost of a computer, it’s a lot,” she says. “In this case, the computers that Colombia en Pittsburgh [is distributing], the software is in Spanish.”
Unlike in other cities, Pittsburgh’s Latino population hasn’t built one central community, and Cristello says this causes isolation and language-barrier issues. “We’re all over the county, from Robinson to Monroeville, obviously Beechview and Brookline, and Squirrel Hill, Highland Park, and East Liberty and North Side,” she says.
But Serrato says that word has gotten around about the program.
“We are receiving a lot of calls, and the main question is, ‘Do I have to sign something?’ No, we are just going to make a call and ask how having a computer at home is changing your life,” Serrato says. “Is it working? That is the main goal.”