ST. CLOUD — A Minneapolis-based nonprofit is rebuilding their program to clean, refurbish and wipe computer hardware to be reused at schools and other organizations.
In the St. Cloud area, Minnesota Computers for Schools has provided equipment to STRIDE Academy and Hands Across the World, and has helped build a computer lab in the Central Minnesota Promise Neighborhood, said Tamara Gillard, the organization’s executive director.
Computers for Schools has been around since 1994, when they were a state-run program under Governor Arne Carlson, Gillard said. After changing forms and locations over the decades, they were certified by the National Association for Information Destruction Jan. 18.
“It’s a great benefit for our donors to know that … their equipment and data is safe with us,” Gillard said.
She hopes that with the new certification, Computers for Schools can attract more donors and provide more equipment across the state.
The program takes donations of computers from businesses, refurbishes them, destroys the data and sells them at affordable prices to schools and nonprofits, Gilalrd said. The computers they can’t use are recycled through certified means.
In the past, they’ve received donations from CentraCare and the St. Cloud Hospital, she said.
Students take part in a coding exercise during a class at Mississippi Heights Elementary in Sauk Rapids in 2015. (Photo: Dave Schwarz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
“Companies, a lot of times, are going to be turning out their equipment at a much faster rate than a school or nonprofits,” she said. “They’re able to put it back to good use, and are helping the communities around them.”
The recipients can often purchase two or three of their computers for the price of a brand-new one, Gillard said. They provide a three-year warranty and tech support along with the refurbished devices.
Some districts still take advantage of the program even if they buy some computers new, she said. “This is a way for them to stretch their budget, so that they can use those savings to put into possibly a teacher or software, whatever they need.”
Some of those computers go towards incentive programs in low-income districts around the state, Gillard said. These academic incentive programs reward students with laptops in return for maintaining high grades or good attendance, she said.
The refurbishing and data destruction are mostly done by paid interns at their Minneapolis location, Gillard said, many of whom are graduating from their information technology certificate courses. Their interns get six months of paid experience and certifications essential to getting IT employment, while the organization gets help refurbishing hardware and preparing computers to be reused.
Their school sales and online sales fund some of the nonprofit, Gillard said, but the bulk of their training programs is funded through the Department of Employment and Economic Development and “a lot of grant writing.”
Minnesota Computers for Schools was not always an internship program. For 22 years, they offered job opportunities to inmates at the Stilwater Correctional Facility’s Industry Program, Gillard said. Up to 40 inmates were employed
After the death of a correctional officer in 2018, the prison shut down some of its job programing, including Computers for Schools’ shop.
Gillard said the nonprofit is in talks to start it back up. “Those men really need to have a job,” she said, “both so that they can prepare for when they get back out on the streets, but also so that they’re making good use of their time, and working on skills to better themselves.”
For now, Computers for Schools is providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, volunteers and people looking for IT job experience. “We’ve really been blessed with being able to open up those opportunities that we weren’t able to when we were just at the correctional facility,” Gillard said.
“This past year, we were in the process of moving and rebuilding,” she said. She’s been working with Central Minnesota businesses in hopes of starting back up again. “With us working with our donors now, we’re really looking to expand that work back out into those communities.”
Businesses or organizations who want to donate equipment can schedule a pickup or organize a donation drive at mncfs.org/donate-equipment.
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