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Mayo IT Newsletter 10-2010

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Mayo IT Newsletter 10-2010

  1. 1. Partnership in the Community-Ability Built Computers Written by: Steve Kelley, Marketing and Public Relations Director, Ability Building Center (ABC) Submitted by: Laura J. Rud For more than a decade, Mayo Clinic IT has been positively impacting the community and the planet by seeing to it that as older workstations, monitors, and peripherals are pulled out of service and replaced by newer equipment, the used technology is kept out of landfills as much as possible. How? Along with the United Way of Olmsted County and other donors with the same concern, a partnership was created that became known as the Refurbished Computer Program (originally called CompuSwap). The program was designed to help eligible families, schools, and nonprofits bridge the “Digital Divide” by purchasing these systems at a very low cost after they’d been returned to a “like new” condition. Through the efforts of volunteers who clean, replace, optimize, and install a new disk image, each of the thousands of systems donated has changed many lives. Organized through the United Way, a committed team of volunteers made up of individuals and organizations throughout the community has met at the Southeast Service Cooperative building most Wednesdays for the past decade to do the actual refurbishing work. They inventory, sort, organize, clean, repair, replace, and reinstall. They schedule appointments for people to come in and pick up their new computers. They schedule “Blitz Builds”, days when a large group of irregular volunteers refurbishes a large number of computers in a short time. Volunteers spend the time needed to teach the new owner the basics of computing – how to turn the computer on, how to go online, and how to practice good internet “hygiene” to avoid viruses and malware attacks. The volunteers try to be sensitive to cultural, language, or economical differences that can get in the way of the program’s mission. And because they’re volunteers, they’ve helped keep costs extremely low. The equipment is donated, the volunteers donate their time and expertise, and Microsoft provides new operating systems at low cost for eligible applicants. It’s been as close to a perfect model as can be imagined, except for a couple of key gating factors. Mayo IT has always had more equipment to donate than the ranks of United Way volunteers could keep up with. An even higher hurdle to the continuation of the program came in the summer, when the United Way learned that as of September 1, 2010, the donated warehouse space housing the program for several years would no longer be available. This was a critical moment in the program and if it was going to survive, it would have to adjust to the changes quickly or go away. Ability Building Center has been working in the community for more than 50 years, providing work opportunities for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. Over the years, many ABC staff and program participants had shown interest in computers and technology. Some had volunteered in the Refurbished Computer Program, and the United Way remembered this as they brainstormed ways to see that the refurbishing program, which they had come to see as vital to improving peoples’ lives, continued. “Applications for systems were outstripping our existing capacity, plus we lost our donated warehouse space”, explained the United Way’s program director April Sutor. So the United Way approached Ability Building Center to discuss options. The solution that held the most promise for the Refurbished Computer Program was one in which ABC would take over the
  2. 2. operation of the program and continue to meet the needs of all its stakeholders, always with an eye toward expansion. Ms. Sutor went on to say “Partnering with ABC brings new employment and skill-building opportunities to their clients, plus it complements ABC’s current work”. The program is now called “Ability Built Computers” and is being operated out of the main ABC facility in Rochester. Ability Building Center has been given the chance to merge its own mission with that of the Refurbished Computer Program and see how big and how green Ability Built Computers can get. The program exists very much like it has for a decade: on Wednesdays volunteers and ABC clients rebuild, repair, and refurbish computers. They schedule appointments and sell computers at the same prices as before. The biggest difference is now there is room for growth. ABC has the room to let the program expand. And it has the people who want to learn the skills so they can do much of the work. This relationship has positively impacted all of us – not just Mayo Clinic and those who receive the refurbished equipment – but all of us on this planet. This equipment has been kept out of the waste stream for an extra period of time – no one knows exactly how much time – but it’s time in which human ingenuity will help guide us all to discover better and smarter ways to recycle and reuse. And while those possibilities are being discovered and debated, new opportunities are being created for those who need them most, by the very technology at the center of the debate. Mayo Clinic IT Newsletter, 20-Oct-2010

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