Closing the digital divide for underprivileged communities is what we’re all about here at Tech Exchange. True economic empowerment for all will only be possible when equal access to technology is achieved, and we tackle this many different ways. In addition to our Tech for All services, we provide paid job training through internships, that are funded by an assortment of programs. As a result our interns are able to go on to employment with various tech-focused companies. Allow us to introduce you to one such intern, Aaron Chanthavong.
Currently, Aaron is Tech Exchange’s program coordinator, but he started out just like our other interns: refurbishing desktops and laptops, cleaning dirty monitors, wrapping endless feet of cable, and helping community members at weekend pop-up events. Over time, his drive and resourcefulness made him a natural hire for the organization. He initiated a social enterprise partnership between Tech Exchange and eBay that became our very first online revenue stream source. Not only are we bringing in about $10k in monthly revenue as a result, we are able to sell accessories and find use for excess gadgets that would otherwise had gone to e-waste. Additionally, Aaron oversees current interns, trains them on the eBay program, and provides tech support and distributes computers at our Tech Hub. In a nutshell, Aaron is the kind of success story that we’re proud to have a hand in making happen. He is especially exceptional, considering the path that brought him to our door.
Coming from a background and family that could have benefitted from our Tech for All services, Aaron grew up without having access to a computer in the home. He enjoyed learning all he could in computer class in junior high, yet staying on after school to further enrich himself was not at option: because of how dangerous the neighborhood was, his mother mandated that he go directly home after the final bell. And as a result of a bad decision he made in the seventh grade, he fell in with the wrong crowd, was expelled, and resorted to illegal means of making money. However, the money that he made, he used on all the hardware he had missed out on as a child; gaming systems, laptops, phones, and more. After realizing that who he thought of as “friends” were anything but, he decided to enroll in a job training program with Civicorps (the program which also funded his internship). Ten months of education, coupled with our internship program, has granted Aaron a true career where he has the freedom of using his passion to enrich not only himself, but others in the community.
This is what we strive to do, as we fulfill our mission of closing the digital divide through education and economic empowerment. Over the past several years, we’ve provided our interns with hands-on education in hardware, giving them real-world skills to troubleshoot, diagnose, repair, upgrade, and replace machines. Our interns are coached on providing service to the community, communicating with staff, and as a result, they leave our program not just primed for greater opportunity, but also for being an agent of change. When asked if he sees himself as an activist, Aaron replied:
“I recently became an activist by supporting the underrepresented and community college students by finding different opportunities that can help bridge students and tech companies. It started after my English class in college, my instructor Professor Falco had really opened my mind up with the different topic she taught plus how compassionate she was towards students. She inspired me to do better for the communities I grew up in.”
Tech Exchange as a company would be remiss if our focus on addressing economic empowerment and closing the digital divide were only through providing hardware and workshops. We’ve got to make sure that the underserved and underrepresented are able to be a part of the workforce of the future. We’ve got to start locally. We have grand plans on expanding our internship program so that we can expand our reach. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media so that you’re part of the first to know about deadlines and updates.
Photo credit: Chrystal Irene
Picture this: it’s the second semester of your sophomore year in high school, and you’re sixteen years old. You live in a single parent household in a public housing project, who’s making just enough to keep a roof over everyone’s head and feed a family that includes two younger siblings. You work a part-time job during the week and weekends so that you can save money for college; literally every cent goes toward application fees, testing fees, and savings to minimize the amount in loans you know you’ll have to take out. No one in the family makes enough to be able to afford the initial fees of setting up home broadband and wifi - much less a monthly plan - and you can only afford a voice + text plan for your smartphone. This means that you only get internet when you have access to a wifi hotspot. You have a very important paper due tomorrow, and you still need to make revisions before submitting it online. By the time you get off work and rush to the city library, it will close in thirty minutes, and the closest coffee shop has a policy that you must buy something in order to sit and use their wifi. Their cheapest drink is outside of your carefully planned budget.
What do you do?
It isn’t fair that anyone should be in the position to have to solve such a conundrum. In a true democracy, full economic, social, and political participation makes a citizen. It’s not out of pocket to say that a person without prompt and continuous access to the internet - in the year 2019 - is a person being denied access to their full citizenship. Unfortunately, this is the situation that millions of Americans find themselves in, including low-income Californians right here in our own backyard. One in four Bay Area residents lives in poverty, and access to technology and tech skills are key to providing a ladder out of that poverty. So here at Tech Exchange, we decided that we would do something about it.
Our Tech For Housing program exists so that the situation as described above never happens again. We provide families living in low-income housing with digital literacy workshops that are taught in five different languages. Each workshop is tailored to the needs and priorities of participating residents, who range in experience from beginner to advanced. Upon completion of 8 hours of instruction, each household receives a free refurbished computer with a one year warranty, on-site tech support, and assistance with low cost internet access options. To date, we’ve provided over 25,000 hours of digital training instruction, and currently, we’re servicing 10 different public housing sites across the Bay Area. Families, veterans, seniors, working adults & students alike are closer to economic empowerment as a result of our direct action, and it is our intention to keep going. We’re closing the digital divide a little bit everyday, because internet access and digital literacy is a necessity, not a luxury.
Our federal government is behind the curve when it comes to addressing the digital divide. In all honesty, you can count our voice as one of the many authorities pushing for the internet to be treated and regulated as a public utility. However, until that day comes, we will continue to rise to the challenge of bringing full access to information - and therefore full democratic participation - to public housing residents of the Bay Area. To learn more about Tech For Housing and our other programs and services, visit www.techexchange.org for more information. On social media, follow @techXorg on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and visit our company LinkedIn page: www.linkedin.com/company/techxorg.
Today our Executive Director Seth Hubbert testified before the California Air Resources Board regarding the draft Greenhouse Gas Investment Plan. Proceeds from the Cap & Trade Program produce an 8 billion dollar Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund that supports programs meant to lower greenhouse gases and deliver benefits to underserved community members.
Below is his statement.
Good afternoon Madam Chair and Members of the Board.
I’m Seth Hubbert, the Executive Director of Tech Exchange, a social impact organization dedicated to digital inclusion: we help disadvantaged community members sign up for affordable home Internet, provide digital literacy trainings, and refurbish donated computers to provide to our community.
We support our clients in communicating with their doctor through a health portal, performing online banking, accessing online educational opportunities and public services, and even setting up home businesses. All of these activities reduce trips, miles travelled, and are a direct strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Innovation and technology have a huge potential in reducing GHG emissions, however this will go unrealized if bold action isn’t taken to support the 31% of California residents that are un-connected and under-connected.
There is another area of our work that directly supports GHG goals: computer refurbishment. Because of cost, many low-income residents, and supporting agencies such as ours, choose refurbished hardware as a first household computer. Computers are nontrivial to manufacture and contain toxic elements. Over the lifespan of a computer’s life, 81% of the energy used comes from manufacturing, and eWaste is our fastest growing waste stream.
We are a still a growing operation: last year we refurbished 4000 computers to provide to the community. Utilizing EPA’s Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, by upcycling these 4000 computers:
• There was air emissions savings of 11,000 metric tons, the equivalent of removing 2300 cars from the road for a year.
• These 4000 computers provided a toxic material savings equivalent to doubling mercury levels in 9.7 million tuna.
• These 4000 computers provided an energy consumption savings equivalent to power 1300 homes for a year.
• Overall, every $1 invested in our organization yield a $1.32 environmental benefit, in addition to the social, economic, and educational benefit our services provide.
These numbers represent only our 4000 computers, which is a tiny share of the 150,000 computers that American’s discard daily.
We appreciate staff’s time in meeting with us, and as written in the draft plan, it is recommended to seek alignment with all agencies with existing funded programs. Internet access paints with a wide brush and we plan to follow this recommendation. Digital Inclusion has many touchpoints and agencies across the State are finding we can help them reach their goals.
However, I’m left with two questions:
1) Does this Board find a digitally connected California, especially our most vulnerable residents, foundational to meeting GHG reduction goals?
2) And what steps can this body take to ensure California's 12.3 million digitally excluded residents can participate in tech-enabled activities necessary to meeting our climate goals.
Thank you for your consideration and urge your leadership and ownership of this issue.
September 15, 2018 - Access to a computer and high-speed internet are more important than ever to the success of the Bay Area’s students, job seekers and families. 53% of adults with incomes less than $30,000 have broadband at home, compared to 93% of those with incomes above $75,000 (Pew Research Center). In the Bay Area alone, 47% of low-income families don’t have access to a computer at home.
To address this crucial need, the Berkeley Library, City of Berkeley, Tech Exchange and Comcast Internet Essentials partnered in hosting a Berkeley Tech Fair on September 15th, 2018.
The Berkeley Tech Fair successfully attracted an attendance of approximately 300. Among these, 125 attendees walked away with a high-quality refurbished computer, representing just a portion of Bay Area residents who are “digitally dark.”
“This event is great! A computer at home is going to make the life for me and my kids much easier, and now they can do their homework at home.” - Gale, Berkeley Resident
Providing computer access, broadband access and technical assistance are three critical inputs to closing the divide in our community. The purpose of the Berkeley Tech Fair was to provide a space which empowered students and families to improve their academic, work and personal lives by ensuring they have access to the necessary technology hardware, internet and supportive resources.
The Berkeley Tech Fair offered a fun and welcoming space where residents were informed about low-cost internet options, had the opportunity to engage with local community partners, and walk-away with a free desktop computer.
Local Community Partners. Partners including Tech Exchange, Berkeley Public Library, Healthy Black Families, City of Berkeley Black Infant Health, Black Girls Code and Berkeley City College took part in the Tech Fair providing community resources, and learning tools to use at home.
Low-Cost Internet. Attendees were provided with resources to learn about and sign up for $10/month internet options available through Comcast Internet Essential or AT&T Access Programs.
Free Refurbished Desktop Computer. As a pledge to ending the “digital divide”, Tech Exchange supplied 125 attending families with a free high-quality refurbished desktop computer and 70 extended pick-up vouchers. Tech Exchange believes there are enough technology resources in the Bay Area that every low-income family can be connected to a home computer and internet.
“We want to ensure that all members of our community have resources, tools, and skills they need to be productive online.” - Seth Hubbert, Tech Exchange’s Executive Director
Access to the Internet and digital tools are crucial to gain skills, look for jobs, apply for those positions, and access healthcare. But that access is not equitably spread. The Berkeley Public Library and partners take pride in closing the digital divide. Technology continues to be more important to our society as we increase our reliance upon computers, mobile devices, the Internet, and other technologies to aid our everyday lives!
“The Berkeley Tech Fair was definitely a success, we would love to participate as a vendor for the future events to come.” - City of Berkeley Black Infant Health
Help Us Eliminate the Digital Divide
Volunteers are essential in our mission to get the Bay Area connected. You can get involved. Stay informed and be added to our volunteer contact list by joining here!
We welcome all residents to join us in preparing computer equipment for distribution to schools, community centers and homes throughout the city.
Chabot Space and Science Center is an educational science center whose mission is to educate students of all ages about Planet Earth and the Universe. In November 2017, the Chabot Center launched Project Create, an interactive learning exhibition with hands-on tinkering and making spaces open to all ages and abilities. Students explore STEAM through the manipulation of real tools and materials in stations including, Marble Machines, Stop Motion Station, Shaping Shadows, Circuit Blocks, Tinker Tailor and more.
In collaboration with Tech Exchange, Project Create has a station titled Tech Take Apart where visitors are able to take apart and rebuild computer parts giving youth the experience to dissect technology and its different parts. Tech Exchange provides donated computer parts to support the station. Through this collaboration, Tech Take Apart emphasizes different aspects of the creative process and explores technology in a nontraditional approach. As Tech Exchange and the Chabot Center continue to work together, Project Create empowers learners and uses inquiry as a tool to ignite curiosity. In addition, Project Create also hosts workshops in which youth use disconnected computer pieces to design and build tech monsters.
Over the last 23 years, Tech Exchange has diverted over 800 tons of e-waste from landfills using our “reuse-model” approach. With Project Create, Tech Exchange is able to increase its impact diverting their e-waste, while youth simultaneously gain a deeper understanding of each part’s importance through this hands-on approach. Tech Take Apart provides a recycling space for technology that otherwise may have been disposed. Tech Exchange takes pride in connecting with local expertise and partners as we work together to empower learning, uplift and provide tangible resources to the community.
Oakland, Calif. (June 11, 2018) -- Tech Exchange was thrilled as 15 GoogleServe volunteers visited the Tech Exchange warehouse to take part in initial steps to eliminating the digital divide. Within the past three years, Tech Exchange has transitioned from a program serving solely Oakland to a regional electronic reuse service providing programming throughout the Bay Area. At the core, Tech Exchange takes pride in putting reused technology directly into the hands of digitally disconnected families.
A majority of Tech Exchange’s work is fulfilled in our active warehouse space. With the constant need to sort, test, and prepare equipment for the community, we value all group and individual volunteers who donate their time to help us fulfill our mission of providing technology access.
GoogleServe volunteers helped technicians with warehouse cleaning, inventory, sorting, and preparing computers to be prepared for the next program installation phase. Thank you GoogleServe!
Access to a computer and high-speed internet are more important than ever to the success of the Bay Area’s students, job seekers and families. 47% of low-income students in the East Bay don’t even have access to a computer at home. In addressing this need, Get Connected Oakland hosted the first annual East Bay Tech Fair at the Oakland Public Library, 81st Avenue Branch on May 12th, 2018.
The East Oakland Tech Fair successfully attracted an attendance of more than 300, a portion of Bay Area community members who are “digitally dark.” The event offered residents access to available community technology services and resources in a fun and welcoming space, with the purpose of closing the digital divide for all Oakland residents.
“It has been hard to home-school my son without a computer. Next year, he is going into third grade and after receiving a computer from Tech Exchange my son will be able to use online learning programs, and complete all of his essays.”
Attendees had the opportunity to explore education technology learning tools, sign-up for low-cost internet, receive digital skills training classes, and walk-away with a free refurbished desktop computer. OUSD high school students also could receive a free mobile device with data plan and hot-spot functionality.
Education Technology Learning Tools. Tech partners such as Hack the Hood, Tech Hire, and Mission Bit took part in the fair to provide tech resources and hands-on engagement to community members. Attendees were introduced to local tech programs and supplied with learning tools to use at home.
Low-Cost Internet. 100% of the families who attended the event are from low-income backgrounds. Attendees were provided with resources to learn about and sign up for $10/month internet options.
Digital Skills Training Classes. Attendees had the option to attend 25-minute digital skills workshops. The workshops covered basic computer concepts and skills such as online ethics, interacting with social media, data privacy and security and information literacy.
Free Refurbished Desktop Computer. As a pledge to ending the “digital divide”, Tech Exchange supplied 148 attending families with a free refurbished desktop computer.
Free Mobile Device with Data Plan and Hotspot. OUSD students received the equipment and connectivity they needed to complete their schoolwork from home as part of the Sprint 1Million Project.
“We came to the East Oakland Tech Fair because my mom cannot afford to buy me a computer. Almost all of my homework I have to complete is using the computer. I either go to school early or stay late. Now, I will be able to do my homework at home and I was also able to get a cell phone!” -OUSD High School Student
Without Internet and computer access, students struggle to complete schoolwork and fall behind their peers in developing the digital literacy skills that are essential in an evolving workplace. Adults miss out on the ability to complete necessary tasks including paying bills, accessing benefits and healthcare, fulfilling workplace and social communication needs, and gaining information to empower themselves and their families on a daily basis. Adults without Internet and computers also struggle to effectively job search - and increasingly as schools move to digital platforms - parents miss opportunities to engage with school communities and to support their children’s school work and academic efforts.
“It has been difficult to apply to jobs without a computer because I do not have a car and I have four kids. After attending the East Oakland Tech Fair, I will be able to use my computer to apply for jobs, and my kids will be able to do their homework at home. Instead of going to the library.” -Community Member
Providing computer access, increasing Internet adoption rates and educating community members on digital literacy are three critical inputs to closing the divide in our community. Get Connected Oakland takes pride on closing the “digital divide” and providing a space, such as the East Oakland Tech Fair. As technology continues to be more important to our society as we increase our reliance upon computers, mobile devices, the Internet, and other technologies to aid in our everyday lives!
Help Us Eliminate the Digital Divide
Volunteers are essential in our mission to get the East Bay connected. We welcome all residents to join us in preparing computer equipment for distribution to schools, community centers and homes throughout the city.
Please visit our website www.techexchange.org, to see the different ways you can donate your time or technology as we bridge the digital divide!
From the organization’s very beginnings, Tech Exchange has been focused on addressing inequities in technology, especially those inequities that impact low-income students. In the 1990’s Tech Exchange founder Bruce Buckelew helped Oakland Tech High School students to repair and keep their own personal computers, and today the organization is equipping 3,000 Bay Area students and families with free and low-cost computers on an annual basis to close the digital divide.
Thanks to a partnership and exciting initiative with Sprint, this year Tech Exchange is helping to close the digital divide for 3,200 Oakland high school students who will receive the equipment and connectivity they need to complete their schoolwork from home as part of the 1Million Project.
Seventy percent of high school teachers assign homework requiring online connectivity, yet more than five million families with school-aged students do not have internet connectivity at home. These students are faced with an enormous challenge as they are unable to complete their homework from home, search for jobs, apply to college and financial aid, or easily access the valuable information they need to succeed in school and life.
To close what has come to be termed the “homework gap,” Sprint is distributing 1 million hotspot devices across the country over the next five years. Each Oakland Unified School District student participating in the 1Million Project will receive either a free smartphone, tablet, or hotspot device and 3GB of high-speed LTE data per month for up to four years while they are in high school. Unlimited data is available at 2G speeds if usage exceeds 3GB in a month. Those who receive a smartphone can use it as a hotspot.
“Tech Exchange has been working to close the digital divide that exists for low-income Oakland students for the past 22 years,” said Tech Exchange Executive Director Seth Hubbert. “We are incredibly honored and excited to partner with Sprint and the district on the 1Million Project. Together we’re reaching thousands of additional students this school year.”
As implementation partner for Oakland, Tech Exchange is coordinating and staffing distribution events at 18 OUSD high schools to put hotspot devices into the hands of OUSD students who lack home internet access.
“We all know how challenging homework can be in the best of circumstances, but here in the 21st century, that daily task can be exponentially more difficult for students without internet access at home,” said Oakland Unified School District Superintendent, Kyla Johnson-Trammell. “We deeply appreciate Sprint and Tech Exchange for coming through with this amazing donation of internet access for thousands of our students. It will go a long way to helping them achieve the success they richly deserve.”
The 2017-2018 school year marks the first year of the initiative with more 180,000 students in 1,300 schools across 32 states. Every year over the next five years, hundreds of thousands of high schoolers who lack internet access at home will join and benefit from the 1Million Project. The ambitious goal is to connect one million students in that time to help level the playing field and help eliminate the “Homework Gap.”
“This is an exciting opportunity to demonstrate how business and education can work together to help close the digital divide,” said Suehyun “Johan” Chung, Northern California Regional President for Sprint. “We are hopeful that the 1Million Project helps to bring greater opportunity to students and families in the Oakland Unified School District and across the country.”
Have you or someone you know been helped by Tech Exchange’s programs? Do you support our community work to make sure families get access to technology and internet services and want to help us do more?
Tech Exchange is dedicated to providing equitable technology access to people in Alameda & Contra Costa counties. We recognize the need for people from all economic and cultural backgrounds to have a computer, reliable internet service, and skill training as a way to be empowered and self-sufficient members of society.
We also provide workforce training in the community, and focus on a reuse and sustainable recycling model that’s good for the environment.
We have been an ecologically sustainable, grassroots solution to addressing the digital divide locally since 1995, and each year we exceed our growth goals!
May 4 is East Bay Gives, a special day of fundraising for over 200 nonprofits in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Tech Exchange is participating and is asking you, our community, to consider being part of the day and donating to help fund our vital work!
On May 4 you can go to https://www.eastbaygives.org/techxorg and donate online! Your donations can help us win sponsored prizes that will give us added funding!
We’ll remind you when it’s time! Use the link at the bottom of https://www.techexchange.org/ to sign up for our newsletter and we will be in touch to remind you on May 4 with the info you’ll need to donate! Then watch us on facebook and twitter to see what’s happening on the day, or stop by our refurbished computer store to say hi!
Through a partnership between Kaiser Permanente staff, Hands On Bay Area, and the tireless staff at Tech Exchange, we rung in the New Year with a highly successful (and fun!) volunteer project for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service to get ready for our upcoming warehouse move!
After 20 years in one location, Tech Exchange’s computer refurbishing team will be moving to a new warehouse in West Oakland. We're becoming leaner and gathering our strength to grow, and this move sets us up to focus on efficiently getting computers to our community in increasing numbers!
In order to make the move this spring, we need to downsize and spring clean! That means sorting through things, reorganizing our stock, recycling what we can’t use, and getting the new space ready!
Over twenty people from Kaiser Permanente came out bright and early on January 16 and did just that! Under the direction of our staff, they went through the warehouse like a whirlwind, leaving us cleaner, ready to host a big surplus material giveaway for the community, and did it with grace and smiles!
The Day of Service, "A Day On, Not a Day Off!" began in 1994. Each year, “With an emphasis on creating opportunity for all, Americans of all ages and backgrounds in all 50 states will re-commit themselves as citizens by volunteering in service to one another,” according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. As ever, we are grateful for neighbors who support our events!
Tech Exchange wants to give a huge shout out to those generous Kaiser staff members who mopped, sorted, lifted, and cut lunch bread with a plastic knife to make the work light. Hands on Bay Area coordinated the volunteers and arranged for a tasty lunch. And our staff dug in like they always do!
Our community, including people who give of their time and money, have helped us increase our ability to help others and we're looking forward to a great 2017!
Watch this space for more details of our upcoming Open House on May 4 as part of East Bay Gives– hope to see you there!
Our refurbished computer store, classes, and technical support will be located this spring in the Fruitvale neighborhood. Watch for announcements on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/techXorg/.