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Computers for Families Campaign Meets Its Match

Program to provide low-income children with computers reaches its sustainability goal and spans the digital divide

Santa Barbara’s Computers for Families program recently met its $4 million fundraising campaign goal, giving the organization the foundation to sustain the education program in perpetuity.

“We are very pleased to have completed the campaign to ensure in perpetuity our ability to bridge the digital divide for local students in our community,” said county Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone, whose office coordinates the program on behalf of Partners in Education.

More than 7,500 computers have been placed with South Coast schoolchildren since Computers for Families was established in 1997 to bridge the community's digital divide.
More than 7,500 computers have been placed with South Coast schoolchildren since Computers for Families was established in 1997 to bridge the community’s digital divide. (Computers for Families photo)

Computers for Families aims to provide local low-income families with computers of their own, as well as the training necessary to stay up to date with current technology. Starting in 1997 as a pilot program in a couple of local schools, the program has, according to Partners in Education executive director Ben Romo, “grown into something beyond our wildest dreams.”

“To be able to run the same strong and effective program in these lean times is a blessing,” he said.

So far, Computers for Families has placed more than 7,500 computers in the homes of children whose parents cannot afford one. Youth at Los Prietos Boys Camp also benefit from the program, which provides them with career and technical skills.

The Carpinteria Unified School District, Goleta Union School District, Hope Elementary School District, Santa Barbara School District and Solvang Elementary School District all participate in the program.

But that’s not all, said Romo. Getting everyone on the same technological level not only makes it more equitable in the classroom for kids who couldn’t previously get to a computer, but the parents are also gaining confidence and the ability to communicate with their children’s schools. They learn computer skills for themselves.

The end result, said Romo, is that people come out better equipped and qualified to enter the workforce, which in turn benefits the economy. He’ll be seeing the fruits of their labors soon — the kids who started out in the pilot program are due to start entering the workforce soon.

The Computers for Families sustainability campaign was started in 2005 and was led by Cirone, former SBCC President Peter MacDougall and attorney Joe Howell of Howell, Moore & Gough LLP. The campaign raised $3,750,000 through September, thanks to contributions from more than 100 individuals, businesses and community organizations.

The biggest contributions have come from the Dworman Foundation and Bacara Resort & Spa. The foundation had already contributed $100,000 previously, but in September officials issued a $125,000 six-month, dollar-for-dollar challenge grant. The community came through, as a range of contributors pushed the campaign to its goal.

“The campaign’s success is due in great part to the generosity of Bacara owner Alvin Dworman and President B.J. Hoppe, who have supported Computers for Families for many years,” Cirone said. “Bacara provided the major support at the end of a long campaign to get us over the top.

“Our gratitude and appreciation could not be more deeply felt,” Cirone said.

Volunteers from Goleta to Carpinteria also contributed to the entire effort, getting more than 500 donations over the life of the campaign. Other major contributors include the Orfalea Fund, Cox Communications, the Towbes Foundation, Venoco Inc., Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and Yardi Systems.

According to Partners in Education, the interest from the $4 million endowment will go toward Computer for Families’ $200,000 operating budget. Now that funding is secure, said Romo, the organization might start looking to expand its program beyond its target fourth- to sixth graders.

“We are delighted that Computers for Families will now and forever be able to provide students from low-income families with access to the technologies and skills necessary for competing in the information age,” Hoppe said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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