A duo from Conception Bay are working to lessen the digital divide by providing free refurbished computers to children in need this school year.
Jon Brown and Gerry Ryan said were concerned that some students in the Conception Bay Centre area would be disadvantaged if school was to move online later this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Gerry, who does computer repairs, wants to refurbish these computers so that the children going back to into school in the fall, children in our area, are going to have equipment to learn," Brown said.
"A lot of the underprivileged children will be equipped to take part."
The provincial government has committed $20-million to purchase Chromebook laptops for junior high and high school students in the province. But in it's back to school plan, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District says it doesn't appear the devices will be ready for September.
We want to be planting the seeds to make sure the community grows. - Jon Brown
Meanwhile, Ryan and Brown first met when Brown donated his old laptop to Ryan to be refurbished. The two got to talking about what having a computer at a younger age would have meant to them.
"We grew up in a lot of the same situations, I think Gerry was older when he had his first computer," Brown said. "I was 17 years old when I got my first desktop, and I had to work all summer and bought it out of my own money."
Brown said they want to make sure children in need don't have to do the same.
"We'll take care of the computers for them, that's kind of why it meant a lot to both us," he said.
Demand outpacing supply
But the demand for the computers Ryan is refurbishing, is outpacing supply.
After getting many requests for computers for the upcoming school year, the duo decided to team up to see how many computers they could get their hands on. After starting with computers from friends on Facebook, they were given an offer to set up a donation site at the St. John's Farmers Market.
Since setting up at the Farmers Market on Saturday, Brown said they collected 40 computers, which exceeded their expectations.
"Donations have actually been overwhelming," he said. "I would say we've probably gotten double what I expected to get. And in addition to that we've had so many other people reach out saying that they've got things at home, they didn't know this was happening or they knew and the just couldn't bring it today."
"In terms of what you see in there today, I think we've had promises for the exact same amount."
The Farmers Market will also serve as a drop-off location for computers throughout the week.
Brown said he wanted to be involved in the initiative to help people in the region where he grew up. He says it's an area where employment is heavily based in the trades, and he hopes having more computers for children, and others in the area, can help open their eyes to new possibilities.
"Because there's so many tradespeople out there, there's a big shortage of work right now because COVID has kind of put a squash on a lot of those projects," he said. "So a lot of people that were looking [to go] back to school and might have had a hard time as it was, it's going to be twice as hard now. So it's really the perfect time for us to start doing this. It's the time that it's needed the most."
Once the computer initiative is complete, Brown and Ryan hope to turn their partnership into a not-for-profit, helping to break down barriers surrounding education, sports and the arts for children in Conception Bay Centre area.
"We want to be planting the seeds to make sure the community grows," Brown said.