MONTCLAIR, NJ - Have an old laptop that you're looking to donate? Laptop Upcycle, a relatively new non-profit company, will securely wipe and refurbish your donated laptops and give them to Montclair students in need.
Laptop Upcycle is a Montclair-based division of HackNCraftNJ, Inc. committed to obtaining, refreshing, and distributing technology to students who need the tools to succeed in school. HackNCraftNJ, an existing 501c(3), has been active for the past two years. Laptop Upcycle is primarily a project that’s part of the existing community makerspace.
According to their website, Laptop Upcycle's mission is to eliminate technology impediments as a part of the achievement gap.
Founders Jon Bonesteel, John Wisniewski, and Sarah Damaskos collectively came up with the idea after seeing a growing need in their community. Many students were coming to school unprepared and going home unable to complete assignments due to lack of technology, founders noted.
The trio responded by pulling their resources together to combat this problem. They created a 501c(3) and devised a solution that, if successful, would put over 100 laptops into the hands of underprivileged students in Montclair each year.
Many think of Montclair as an affluent community, however, there are many students in the community that still do not have internet access or a computer at home.
On their literature, Laptop Upcycle has expressed that schools can unintentionally penalize students who don't have computer access because much of the homework is distributed through Google Classroom, which requires students to complete it and turn in through the same electronic system. Therefore, for those students who don't have a computer or access, then it puts those students at a disadvantage to their peers.
In the fall of 2015, Laptop Upcycle collected their first batch of laptops. 28 of them were donated by Essence, a New York-based ad agency. They were they were then refurbished and redistributed to Montclair students in need.
When receiving a laptop donation, Laptop Upcycle collects the laptops, wipes the data off and then puts in a fresh operating system, all free of charge to the receiving student. All they ask for is that the receiving student writes a thank you letter to the donor. That's all, no strings attached. The laptop belongs to the student forever.
Laptop Upcycle has also started to connect with other organizations to be able to present an entire package to students in need. Thanks to the generous donation of Montclair residents Donald Katz and Leslie Larson, internet boxes have been made available that would provide free Sprint internet access in the home for Montclair students for up to five years.
Wisniewski explained, "There is a federal program that helps fund modems for the home, but even with that subsidy, the physical boxes still cost $75 a piece."
He cited generous donations as the reason this was made possible. "Through a very generous donation from Don Katz and Leslie Larson, they funded the purchase of these base boxes. We can distribute those to families that do not have internet access at home. What the you get is this box free of charge and a five year internet service from Sprint."
For those students currently in need of WiFi access at home, they can contact the guidance counselor to be placed on the list.
To ensure that the boxes are used for general academic purposes, protections are on the boxes to protect against pornography or Netflix usage, added Bonesteel. He said, "It's safe internet, as well. It has protections from pornography, so it's really academic wifi."
He continued saying that although there are a significant number of WiFi boxes available, once the supplies run out, they will need to replenish the supply. He added, "It's a significant number, but it's limited. If successful, we hope to obtain additional donations from people in town and perhaps do more."
Laptop Upcycle hopes to help close the achievement gap with this initiative.
A total of 34 laptops have been repurposed and distributed to students at Montclair High School and Buzz Aldrin Middle School.
Wisniewski added, "Our greatest immediate need is for more donated laptops, because right now there is more demand than we can meet."
To protect the identity of students, Laptop Upcycle has developed a discreet process of identifying students and distributing the materials. Thus far, students have been referred by staff at the various schools as a need arises. Qualifications for the program are that students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
"This has been a discreet process based on recommendations," added Bonesteel. However, it is open to recommendations from practically anyone who feels that they know someone in need.
The organization projects that at least 100 students per year in Montclair would benefit from this donation. Along with the laptop, students are provided a case and a charger.
Bonesteel added, "We’ve had excellent support from staff at the High School and Buzz Aldrin schools and we are hoping to also work with both Renaissance and Glenfield very soon."
Laptop Upcycle is currently seeking donations from individuals or companies. Any donation is considered a tax write-off for up to $300 per laptop.