A Waterville-based nonprofit organization that refurbishes old tech products to close the digital divide between those who have access to computers and those who do not has had its supply chain disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The organization — Give IT. Get IT. — is a 501(c)(3) that recycles and refurbishes electronics to donate to organizations, individuals and families to improve literacy, job skills and digital connections.

Chris Martin, pictured April 21, is a cofounder of a Waterville-based nonprofit — Give IT. Get IT. — at 60 Industrial St., where computers are refurbished for low-income families, students and others. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The company collects used computers and electronics from businesses such as IDEXX Laboratories, Sappi and Bangor Savings Bank, destroys the data and recycles the nonreusable materials. Reusable materials are then refurbished into low or no cost computers.

With so many Mainers relying on computers for work or school at home, the materials needed to produce the refurbished computers have become harder to acquire.

“Our pot has dried up,” said Chris Martin, co-founder of Information Technology Exchange, the nonprofit’s parent company. “Businesses are now putting electronics recycling at the bottom of their priority list or they’re reusing their products to give to employees so they can work from home.”

Business-class equipment is used for refurbishing because they can be rebuilt and last longer than consumer equipment, according to Martin.

The organization, based at 60 Industrial St. in Waterville, was formed in December 2018 after two of Information Technology Exchange’s programs, PC’s for Maine and eWaste Alternatives, merged to form a “one-stop-shop” for affordable and accessible technology.

PCs for Maine launched in 2002 and provides computer and tech training, low cost and high-quality devices and free technical support to individuals and organizations across the state.

EWaste Alternatives began in 2007 and is a licensed and certified data destruction and electronics recycling operation. Since its creation, it has redirected nearly 1.5 million pounds of electronics waste from the waste stream, according to Martin.

Dean Simpson of Give IT. Get IT. — a Waterville-based nonprofit company — is magnified through a glass as he prepares an eBay ad for a computer at the Waterville facility April 21. Simpson said the magnifier is used to read printed information on the computers they list that is then used preparing the ad. The company refurbishes computers for low-income families, students and others. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“So the eWaste is basically the ‘give it’ part and PCs for Maine is the ‘get it’ part,” Martin said.

“We support community support agencies and groups,” Martin said in an email. “Such as Voc Rehab, Public Libraries, Recovery Centers, Battered Women’s and Homeless Shelters, Literacy programs in support of all age groups throughout all of Maine and other New England states.”

Most of the individuals who receive products or services from the organization are those within 200% of the federal poverty level who don’t already have a computer and are trying to achieve an educational, employment or personal improvement goal, according to Martin.

Last year, Information Technology Exchange provided laptops and instruction for a pilot financial literacy program sponsored by New Beginnings, a nonprofit organization based in Lewiston that serves runaway and homeless youth.

The program consisted of six classes taught by Community Credit Union that taught seven participants about budgeting and savings strategies, loans and interest rates, online banking, building and repairing credit and improving their attitudes toward money. 

Information Technology Exchange taught a course on how to use and care for the laptops, which were used by students for note-taking and checking their credit scores.

“It was a great trial run,” said Rachel Spencer-Reid, director of development and community services for New Beginnings. “And (it) resulted in formerly homeless youth getting both new tech and financial literacy skills, and their very own laptop to keep and use for school, work and staying connected.”

The organization has also donated electronic equipment to the Cornville Regional Charter School, including two large screen TVs, wireless keyboards, mice and a wide area photo printer.

“It’s really nice equipment,” said Travis Works, executive director of the Cornville Regional Charter School. “It allows our learners to do some creative work.”

A Waterville-based nonprofit — Give IT. Get IT — refurbishes computers at its 60 Industrial St. facility. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

“COVID-19 has made people aware of the thing we’ve been working on for 20 years, the digital divide. You can’t go see your friends, can’t go to the beach, and if you don’t have access to the internet, a computer or have the competency to use a device, you are truly isolated …”

According to census.gov, 88.4% of the 556,995 households in Maine have computers.

“This is what we all take for granted,” Martin said. “There’s an estimated 70,000 households in the state that don’t have the resources that we use every day.”

The need for computers has been highlighted by the statewide school closures that began last month. Many districts announced a minimum shut-down of two weeks but after Pender Makin, commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, announced schools should plan to continue remote learning for the remainder of the academic year, many districts decided to remain closed and pursue the alternative distance practice.

Martin said the company has been in contact with some districts in the state to discuss distributing its products and services.

The company is also asking businesses and individuals to consider sponsoring a household, and that takes money.

According to the company’s website, a donation of $150 to $400, depending on the equipment, can allow one household to receive a computer, training and tech support,

The training and tech support is done through desktop sharing and through a partnership with the National Digital Equity Center in Machias.

For Martin, this call to action is important in continuing his mission to lessen the “digital divide” in Maine.

“Basically we’re trying to help people to live in Maine and technology is a way to do it,” Martin said. “A resilient community is a connected community and we’re not just showing people what buttons to push, we’re telling them why.” 

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