Bringing Technology Training and Computers to At-Risk Communities in Portland, OR

Free Geek is committed to including EVERYONE in the digital future. They are committed to sustainably reusing technology, enabling digital access, and providing education to create a community that empowers people to realize their potential.

Among other programs, The Olseth Family Foundation has provided support for Welcome to Computers, a culturally-specific digital literacy program for marginalized communities which addresses the disparity of access to technology for lower income individuals and families.

According to a Pew Research study from February 2021, 41% of households with an annual income below $30,000 per year do not have a desktop or laptop computer in the home, and 43% also lack home broadband. The digital gap is wide and marginalized; lower income communities are still the most at risk.

To address the technology disparity, Welcome to Computers (WtC) was launched in 2017. The program was reimagined and restructured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic because the region’s most vulnerable populations needed more support than ever. Virtual curricula packages were created, allowing participants to access from home with a complimentary Free Geek computer or on a smartphone, with customized offerings to meet the needs of specific populations.

As the country moves out of the pandemic, Free Geek has permanently incorporated virtual options into their many technology courses. For example, the introductory class, “Getting Started with your Free Geek Computer” can be taken as a two-hour hybrid webinar (live Q&A at the beginning and end, alongside video content) or a pre-recorded video version, which will be offered in both English and Spanish. Free Geek is also expanding its Digital Inclusion Program “Plug Into Portland” and “Gift a Geek Box,” which provide free devices and technical education to people with an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Line. Notably, 60% of these participants identify as an ethnicity other than white. Free Geek is committed to ensure that everyone has access to connectivity, no matter their background, income or ethnicity.