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17 Years in the Making, Computers for Families Gives Out Its 10,000th Computer

The program, operated by the County Education Office and Partners in Education, helps hundreds of needy students each year

Computers for Families has given out 10,000 computers over the past 17 years and helped thousands of students prepare for junior high school and beyond. On Thursday night, the program celebrated giving out the 10,000th computer at Franklin Elementary School, where computers were given to about 120 families from both Franklin and Adelante Charter School.

It all started with an idea to close the “digital divide,” and founders thought that could be accomplished in just four years, said Ed Heron, a board member with the Santa Barbara Unified School District who has been involved with the program since the beginning.

“It’s amazing to me to see the difference yet the need is still there,” he said.

The program donated 1,000 computers per year to needy families for four years but realized it wasn’t sustainable. For the last 13 years, Computers for Families has consistently donated 600 computers every year to South Coast schools.

Heron remembers when his company donated modems to the program, which has become a private-public partnership operated by the Santa Barbara County Education Office and Partners in Education.

Teenage boys at Los Prietos Boys Camp and Academy — operated by the Probation Department and County Education Office — work on refurbishing the computers, stockpile them, and then teach children and their parents how to use them before handing one over.

“I like seeing the smiles on all the kids’ faces,” said Oscar, who has been working on refurbishment for a few months at Los Prietos.

They work hard to wipe and reprogram all the desktop computers and love seeing them put to good use.

“You can see all these kids are so happy to get one,” he said.

They make sure to block Facebook and MySpace and other similar programs since the computers are meant to be used only for schoolwork.

“It’s not a toy, it’s a tool,” Franklin Principal Casie Killgore said.

She was scheduled to get computers for students in March but was “impatient,” she said with a laugh. There was no scheduled donation day for August, so she convinced the program organizers that she could get the information out, parents informed and permission slips signed in the first four days of school, and pulled it off.

“What better way to start the school year than with a computer in your hands at home?” she said, adding that it’s important for students to be on a level playing field when it comes to technology, and Computers for Families helps prepare lower-income students for junior high school. “It also gives a way for the kids to be leaders in their house.”

Parents also get a quick lesson on Internet safety and ethics, which is a big issue since something will inevitably get past the filters, Killgore added.

The program has also negotiated steep Internet discounts with Cox Communications for the families, at $10 per month for three years, said Michelle Magnusson, executive director of Partners in Education.

The organizers all laugh now when they think about “solving” the gap in access to technology in four years, Magnusson said.

They’re not stopping anytime soon.

To learn more about the program and how you can support it, click here.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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