Oakland Man Nonprofit Repairs 1000’s of Used Computer systems and Laptops to Bridge the Digital Divide – CBS San Francisco
OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – An Oakland man who ran a technology nonprofit was instrumental in bridging the digital divide between the city’s students during the pandemic transition to virtual learning.
Oakland Technology Exchange refurbishes used computers to give away for free and inexpensive to underserved people who cannot afford desktops, laptops, or tablets.
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Executive Director Seth Hubbert grew the charity in six years from fewer than 1,000 families in Oakland to 34,000 families in the Bay Area last year.
“Living in the Bay Area, the heart of technology for the world, shouldn’t be a problem facing the underserved community,” said Hubbert of the digital divide.
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The pandemic switch to online learning has made the depth of the digital gap clear.
“When the pandemic started, fewer than 25 percent of families in Oakland had all the tools, the number of Chromebooks for the number of students, and the internet access they needed,” Hubbert said.
Today 98 percent have what they need.
“I’m excited, excited, but I don’t want to lose the potential to maintain this,” said Hubbert.
He and his team filled the big gap with Oakland Undivided, a partnership with the city, school district, Oakland Education Fund and Oakland Promise.
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With $ 13 million in funding – $ 10 million of which from Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter – the program connected people to the Internet and distributed more than 28,000 computers, thousands of which were refurbished by Oakland Technology Exchange.
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Alicia Huerta brought home a free computer years ago. She and her son Juan recently got a free pill.
“Tablets and computers can get very, very expensive, especially if you have three children studying online at home,” said Huerta.
“If we share one it will be difficult for us to share and if we have several it will be easier,” added Juan.
The 26-year-old nonprofit, formerly known as OTX West, also offers free tech support. It has answered more than 10,000 requests for help via text, email, phone, or in its store on International Boulevard on 24th Street over the past year.
Technician Marquece Whitley, a former intern, says Hubbert’s leadership makes all the difference.
“Every time I see him I get a smile on my face,” said Whitley. “He’s one of the reasons I come to work every day because he makes me feel like I’m part of the team.”
Due to the pandemic, corporate donations fell by 60 percent last year. Hubbert is looking for more companies to donate their used computers when buying new computers.
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The non-profit organization is also preparing to resume computer training in public housing complexes.