Free Geek Intergalactic: Minneapolis and Beyond!
Did you know that Free Geek has inspired startups in cities across the United States and Canada? So far, affiliate Free Geeks have popped up in Southern California, Minneapolis, Indiana, Ohio, Chicago, Arkansas, Rhode Island, Vancouver, B.C., and Toronto, Ontario. These computer reuse and recycling nonprofits are collectively known as “Free Geek Intergalactic,” and together we are bridging the digital divide, maintaining high environmental standards, and promoting free and open source technology all across North America. On a recent trip to the Midwest, I stopped by Free Geek Twin Cities in Minneapolis, MN, to learn a little more about what the Geeks are up to in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Free Geek Twin Cities (FGTC) has been open since December of 2009, and has been offering electronics recycling, refurbished computers, and education to the community ever since. This year promises to be one of change and growth, as the organization recently gained 501(c)3 nonprofit status and is planning to move to a larger space this spring, hopefully near their current location in the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis has been ahead of the curve in terms of electronics recycling for some time, as the city has offered curbside electronics recycling since 1997. Before FGTC opened its doors, other computer reuse and recycling organizations had already cropped up to satisfy the eco-friendly demands of this Midwestern metropolis. Even so, when FGTC co-founder Thomas Saunders heard our own Richard Seymour talking about Free Geek at a bookstore in Minneapolis in 2007, he quickly saw that the Free Geek model would be well-received in the Twin Cities. Saunders and several other co-founders met in coffee shops strategizing and fundraising until they were able to move into their first location in late 2009 and open their doors to volunteers.
FGTC is volunteer-powered in the truest sense of the phrase. There are three types of volunteers, based on commitment level: regular volunteers, super volunteers, and staff-level volunteers. Staff-level volunteers are in charge of running the organization; they do everything from running the thrift store and training new volunteers to making strategic decisions about the organization’s future. Currently, FGTC volunteers put in over 1000 hours per month tinkering, training, and saving electronics from the landfills.
Just like at the Mothership (as Free Geek Portland is lovingly referred to within Free Geek Intergalactic), volunteers of all backgrounds can put in 24 hours of service to earn a refurbished computer. Twin Cities area nonprofits are also eligible to receive a hardware grant from FGTC, as several already have in the first two years of operation. Of course, anyone is welcome to shop for an affordable refurbished computer or component in the Thrift Store.
Walking around FGTC, it was easy to see that these Minnesotan Geeks are kindred spirits to us in PDX. Their hard work, creativity, and dedication to Free Geek principles are benefiting an untold many in the Twin Cities area. When asked for advice for other Free Geek startups, volunteer staff member Brad replied, “Keep it simple, follow your plan, and make sure your volunteers know how important they are to the organization.”
Interested in learning more about Free Geek Intergalactic? Visit http://wiki.freegeek.org/index.php/Free_Geek_Startups, or do a basic Internet search for any of the startups mentioned in this article.