100% Computer Friendly
By Melissa Mendonca
Story: Melissa Mendonca Photos by: Bret Christensen
COMPUTERS FOR CLASSROOMS IS A COMMUNITY GIFT
Pat Furr doesn’t remember exactly how old she was when she started at Chico State University to begin work toward a master’s degree in computer science. She does say, “My son was in college with me. I was probably about 50.”
She also admits that when she was an undergraduate studying math and social science as a young woman, “We didn’t even have hand-held calculators.” She had to begin her master’s coursework with a series of prerequisites to get the basics of computer science.
“You don’t have to do one occupation your whole life,” Furr says. She’d enjoyed a career in real estate but was ready for a change. “I wanted to learn more about computers, so I just did it.”
Today, Furr is in her 70s and is president of Computers for Classrooms, a Chico-based non-profit she founded in 1991 to help meet the computer needs of local schools. The organization has grown from humble beginnings in her home to a warehouse with more than 25,000 square feet of space and a comprehensive system to safely and certifiably refurbish or recycle computers and other electronics.
As a trustee for the Chico Unified School District, Furr took particular interest in education issues while traveling to China in 1990. She noticed there was an emphasis on two courses of study: English and computers. This inspired her to found Computers for Classrooms.
Furr knew that Chico schools were lacking in computer access. By refurbishing used computers from the community, whether donations from private households or large corporations, she could get quality computers into classrooms at a fraction of the cost of new ones. She could also make an impact on the environment by developing opportunities for reuse.
The work has expanded to a site in Sacramento and a “computer mobile” has been created to deliver and pick up computers across the state. “We triage everything and the highest end items go to the schools,” she says. “But certainly, computers that are less than that are really good for families.”
Computers for Classrooms allows low-income people to earn a computer with 50 volunteer hours or to purchase one at a fraction of the cost of a new one. Job skills are developed as computers are earned, as volunteers actively participate in the refurbishing process.
Furr takes great pride in the computer mobile, as it significantly expands the service area. “We’ve gone all over. We just try to have it make sense with the number of donations and the gas and the truck.” She is happy to send the truck loaded with computers for schools or low-income families any time a group can generate enough interest to make it worth the trip. Ideally, the computer mobile will return filled with donations to keep the cycle moving. “If there’s a lot of interest,” she says, “we can have an event.”
“Last year, for the first time, we did a million pounds of donations,” Furr says. Computers for Classrooms uses Blancco software’s three-part security system, which meets Department of Defense-level standards for wiping hard drives clean and destroying private data.
“Any organization that donates to us doesn’t have to worry about a donation ending up with their data being shipped to another country,” she says. Computers for Classrooms is also the first nonprofit nationally to receive the “very complex” R2 certification, which is a standard that protects the environment, human health and security during recycling.
Computers for Classrooms also considers children’s safety when it distributes computers. Laptops, for instance, are only available to college students or adults. Families are advised to monitor the computer use of young people, which is easier to do on a desktop machine.
The organization is also a Microsoft Registered Refurbisher, which allows it to load Windows 7 Pro, Windows XP Pro, Microsoft Office 2007 Basic and Microsoft Office 2003 . Their longest serving volunteer, Ron “The Mac Guy,” has put in 12 years and now has his own office space. “He argues too much about the Macs being better than the PC so we just close the door,” Furr says with a laugh.
“Starting this program was really teaching myself something new,” offers Furr . “I’ve enjoyed mathematics and computers and being able to help.” Taking on a project as big as closing the computer gap for schools and low-income families may seem daunting to most, but not to Furr, who likes to “just go do things.” •
Computers for Classrooms, Inc. • 315 Huss Drive, Chico www.computersforclassrooms.org • (530) 895-4175