Bridging the Digital Divide with Upcycled Computers
Founded in Oakland almost 40 years ago, Civicorps runs an extensive job training program for young adults lacking career skills and opportunities, with paid positions in land management and resource conservation. They also offer a high school diploma program for young adults ages 18-26, as well as access to wrap-around support services to help with childcare, housing, legal issues, transportation, and other daily life needs.
“Our mission is to remove barriers to stable, well-paid employment for our Corpsmembers, and we’re doing it in a way that contributes to the field of conservation,” says Rachel Eisner, Civicorps’ director of Development and Communications.
Branching out, bridging divides
However, that field is constantly evolving, and Civicorps’ training program along with it. Recently, through a new partnership with Oakland-based nonprofit, Tech Exchange, Corpsmembers have now branched out into the computer industry. Each year, the nonprofit refurbishes up to 10,000 donated, used computers and provides them to East Bay families that are digitally disconnected. In addition to upcycling the devices, Tech Exchange arranges for low-cost internet access and offers trainings to build digital skills.
When schools switched to distance learning in mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19, it became clear just how critical Tech Exchange’s work is to ensure that Oakland public school students without home technology access aren’t left behind. To help meet the demand, Civicorps was able to increase the number of Tech Exchange interns from two to four, covering half of their wages with a $20,000 Reuse & Repair Grant from StopWaste. Working closely with Tech Exchange staff, interns learn all aspects of the refurbishing process—from testing and upgrading the devices to warehouse management and communication with customers and team members.
“The grant funding allows us to make a difference on several levels,” says Eisner. “Our Corpsmembers learn job skills that are in high demand, we are helping bridge the digital divide among Oakland students, and we’re extending the life of computers, saving resources and preventing e-waste. We’re so grateful to StopWaste for partnering with us.”