In 1997 community volunteers took a leap of faith and founded Computers For Children, (CFC) a nonprofit organization grounded in the principle to make technology more accessible to children who were most likely experiencing the downside of the digital divide for a variety of reasons. At that time CFC was more sophisticated than any other technology program focused on access and began its fight to get computers in the hands of all needy kids in Buffalo by creating highly successful partnerships with Buffalo Public Schools. Twenty years later CFC not only continues with that commitment, but has grown and expanded its efforts and programs in myriad ways; and in this milestone moment, is hitting the refresh button as it ups the ante on its broader mission with a new name, a new look, and new strategic approach for achieving goals.
“In the early years, when we donated computers to some schools, the equipment would often create small brown outs –because the schools didn’t have a sufficient electric infrastructure to support a computer lab,” stated Christine Carr, CFC executive director.
Today, Computers For Children goes far beyond refurbishing and donating computers that have been donated to them; and their years of growth are reflected in the unveiling of their new name and new look: MISSION IGNITE: Powered by Computers For Children, and signifies their success and dedication to advancing STEM/STEAM initiatives through a wide range of training programs.
Before the explosive use of text messaging, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter and the plethora of social media outlets, Computers For Children was the first in New York State and the second in the nation as a pioneering and trailblazing organization attempting to bridge the digital divide. The early efforts of the agency were to become the solution for schools that served poor and at-risk students and that needed computers for classrooms and learning labs, but had no budget for technology.
Twenty-years ago, some thinking was that computers were not meant for kids to use, they were to be employed by business for business or in other professional settings. But, times have surely changed! Just recently I was sitting in a waiting room next to a two-year-old and her grandfather and she was playing around on her own tablet. Yes, we’ve come along way since those early years. I am personally honored to have been there in the very beginning when CFC started in a basement with a half-time time director and I was able to provide a VISTA volunteer through my own professional channels.
My favorite programs at CFC, now MISSION IGNITE, are Minecraft game tutoring and the robotics program. CFC continues, as MISSION IGNITE, to break the digital divide in many ways, by providing as many computers as possible to schools in need, while providing classrooms with STEM/STEAM instruction for high-needs student populations. Every year, this organization provides services and educational programs for at least 1000 students; and over the course of twenty years, that’s a lot of kids!
I asked Christine for a story from among her hundreds of successes. She thought for a moment and then shared this memory. “I remember one summer when a young Syracuse University student was home for the summer and interning for the Buffalo News. He came to our offices to do a story on our programs. He mentioned that he grew up in this area and went to school at Saint Rosa Lima. It just so happened that CFC had donated computers to Saint Rosa Lima. The young man excitedly recalled the day they were delivered to his school, ‘I remember them well! They were Barbie and Hot Wheel computers, and that was where I first learned how to use technology.’ CFC had an amazing donation of hundreds of new boxed computers from Fisher Price and Mattel that year.” Carr stated, “It only goes to show what an impact and impression our work can make, and how CFC cannot really know exactly how far reaching our programs can be when it comes to helping kids with technology and creating an appreciation for its use in their own futures.”
This far-reaching positive impact and demand for services has also resulted in a major award of $150,000 from the John R. Oishei Foundation to assist Computers For Children in their quest to achieve their long-term goals of sustainability and innovation.
I extend my congratulations to Computers For Children, and onward MISSION IGNITE: Powered by Computers For Children.