COLUMBIA - A new program through Columbia Public Schools allows high school students to give back to low-income families, and get a grade for it.
Through the "Repair it Forward" program, high school students repair donated computers and then give them to low-income families. Students learn to repair computers in their "A Plus IT Essentials" class at the Columbia Area Career Center.
David Hopkins who teaches the class said the Career Center goes through other organizations to connect with families who need computers, but he said he hopes the Career Center can have its own donation drives in the spring.
One of the organizations Hopkins donates to is the Voluntary Action Center, which will have its eleventh annual "Homes for Computers" drive Saturday.
"Homes for Computers" donates 30 computers to families inside the Columbia city limits that have at least one school-aged child and meet the income requirements.
The Voluntary Action Center used to rely on the Downtown Optimist Club and the City of Columbia's refurbishing technicians, but this is the first year the Voluntary Action Center will also use the Career Center's students to repair the computers.
"They've started helping clean up the computers because what they do is they completely wipe out the computers and refurbish them," said Jackie Wilmes, a social services specialist at the Voluntary Action Center. "They wipe out all of the information on the computer and put in a few more programs. There's one program they put on that is similar to Word and that reverts to Word when opened so the children still have something they can do like homework assignments."
"It's a good experience for the students," said Hopkins. "They get to actually work on real computers and it gives them a sense of community. They get to give back to the needy."
As technology becomes more prevalent in the academic environment, Wilmes said making sure homes have at least one computer is more important than ever.
"It's really important especially now with schools going to more technology-based assignments," said Wilmes. "If a child doesn't have a computer in the home sometimes it can be very stressful to the parent to figure out where the child is going to complete this homework, how are they going to complete this homework, kind of relieve some of the stress for the family to know that they have a computer in home and are able to do some of that in the home now."
Hopkins and Wilmes both agree that providing computers to low-income families could create a positive cycle, allowing students to get better grades in school, which could lead to college scholarships.
"We may just be giving them a refurbished computer but that could allow a child to have time to do their homework, could increase their grades in school, and lead them on to understanding that 'hey I like doing this stuff' and maybe encourage them to continue on to do something else in their future," said Wilmes.
The computers don't just help the students.
"There are parents that may be applying for jobs or filing their taxes, or they have more than one school-aged child," said Hopkins. "One computer can affect several lives."
"They might have the barrier of 'well how do I get to somewhere that has a computer? How do I get to the library because maybe I don't have transportation of my own and I have to use the bus system and that might be hard to rely on when you have kids,'" said Wilmes. "It's just a nice thing to be able to relieve a little bit of that stress so that maybe they can stay home and do it on their own computer."
She said the Voluntary Action Center has recognized that computers have negative consequences in addition to the positive consequences associated with them.
"When we distribute we also provide an Internet safety training for families so they better understand what that computer is also bringing into their home and what risks it might create in the home that they haven't experienced before because they didn't have a computer," said Wilmes.
If you would like to donate your computer to "Repair it Forward," contact David Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.