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COLUMBIA — The Homes for Computers Program distributed 40 computers to eligible low-income Columbia families on Saturday.

One mother said the computer will help with her children's academics. 

"My older children, they're getting to, they have more projects they need to do and research and papers that they have to type so it will be beneficial to them," Candace Ruffin said. "And my daughter, they have math programs and different things they're supposed to work on online at home and so she'll be able to do that as well."

Another computer recipient said it was a blessing. 

"It's something that people just don't think about getting these days with paying the bills and paying rent," Suzette Robinson said. "Just living day to day, a computer doesn't figure into that. And yes, it's good, it's real good, because it does help us as parents who wouldn't normally have access unless we went to the public library."

The program is a partnership among the City of Columbia, Voluntary Action Center and the Downtown Optimist Club.

The Downtown Optimist Club distributed surplus refurbished computers from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Optimist building in Columbia.

The Voluntary Action Center screened clients and determined who is qualified to participate in the program.

Jackie Wilmes, Voluntary Action Center social services specialist, said the focus of the program is the education of children.

“We see with our clients that are low income clients, sometimes it’s difficult just to have money for food, to have money for housing,” Wilmes said. “And when you don’t have money for basic needs, education can be something that goes by the wayside so the hope is that, 'Hey, we can provide this computer to you to ease some of that burden and to allow your child more space to grow and to not continue to have to stay in that cycle.'”

To apply for the program a family must live within the city limits of Columbia, not currently have a computer in their home and have a school-age child in their home.

The City Council approved the Homes for Computers Program in 2003 instead of disposing surplus computers through the University of Missouri, Surplus Property Division.

Downtown Optimist Club member Rick McKernan said the group is happy to be a partner with the program.

“The city used to sell these computers and got zero dollars effectively for 40 computers,” McKernan said. “Now they are putting them back into the hands of citizens in the community, which makes these students more successful in their school work and gives them an opportunity to succeed in life that they might not otherwise have had."

The information technology students with the Columbia Area Career Center upgraded the equipment, and volunteers also worked to get the computers upgraded and ready for the families.

Volunteer Regan O’Connor said it felt good knowing the computers are going to people who are less fortunate.

“We came here and helped them set up the computers, like made sure that all the programs were running correctly, they could power up, the mouses and the keyboards worked,” O’Connor said. “And it felt really good because these were all donated to help people who are less fortunate and can't afford technology themselves.”

The Boone County Sheriff's Department also provided an internet safety presentation for the families who receive a computer.

Families have received nearly 500 computers through the program to date.

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