In our increasingly interconnected and technologically-dependent society, Free Geek believes internet access and basic computer skills are a right, not a privilege.
According to a 2014 Broadband Adoption Survey, at least 15 percent of Portland-area residents do not have internet access at home, while at least 10 percent do not even have access to a computer. This population largely consists of vulnerable and at-risk communities: low-income families, youth, seniors, people of color, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, and English language learners. Without basic computer skills or in-home internet, these communities are unable to leverage the internet: to pay bills online, help their children with homework, or practice English with tools like Mango Connect. It also dramatically reduces available employment options, and even the ability to search for employment.
Welcome to Computers provides multi-week digital literacy training at community organizations across the Portland metro area. Developed by Free Geek, Multnomah County Library and MetroEast Community Media, this program focuses on low-income adults who need a computer and basic computer skills. By successfully completing the program, participants receive a Free Geek computer and 1 year of technical support.
Over the course of the program, participants learn to navigate the web, send email, and access ongoing resources like computer classes at the library. In the final class, participants learn how to use Linux Mint and connect to low-cost internet services. This program seeks to increase access to technology for marginalized communities by removing common barriers: offering materials and classes in their language, a convenient meeting location, childcare, and snacks.
Since piloting in 2016, we have collectively worked with more than 200 residents and clients of Home Forward, Human Solutions, Hacienda CDC, Central City Concern, and IRCO. The City of Portland profiled this pilot in their 2017 and 2018 "Digital Equity Action Plan" Status Reports.
This program is made possible by the Olseth Family Foundation.