MONTCLAIR, NJ - Nearly a dozen Montclair students were the recipients of laptops on Thursday. As part of a laptop refurbishing initiative called Laptop Upcycle, the students also received free WiFi for their homes for four years.
The eligibility is based on need.
Twelve recipients, all Montclair High School students, were identified by community-based organization, Reaching Out Montclair, an organization run by Montclair Police Officer Garth Guthrie and his wife Madeline.
The vision for giving laptops to Montclair students in need started in 2015, when Montclair resident Sarah Damaskos was chatting with another parent, who had revealed that she had no computer at home.
Damaskos enquired further and was surprised at what she found out.
She said, "I discovered that the student was doing homework on her phone or at the Montclair Public Library."
Damaskos decided to do something about it. She posted a request to a Facebook chat group, asking for a laptop donation. Someone responded.
That someone was Jon Bonesteel.
Bonesteel not only gave Damaskos the laptop, but he also had other laptops to spare. Jon then worked with another member of the HackNCraftNJ Makerspace, John Wisniewski, to solve the technical challenges and get the operation going.
If there was one that needed a laptop, surely there were others, Bonesteel surmised.
After passing off the refurbished laptop to the student, the trio decided that their mission was born.
Many view Montclair as an affluent community, however, they soon discovered that there are numerous students in the community that still do not have internet access or a computer at home.
The trio formed Laptop Upcycle, which is a Montclair-based division of HackNCraftNJ, Inc.
According to Bonesteel in a prior interview, Laptop Upcycle is committed to obtaining, refreshing, and then distributing technology to students who need the tools to succeed in school. HackNCraftNJ, an existing 501c(3), has been active since 2014.
Students arrived on Thursday evening with their parents for an orientation prior to distribution.
Bonesteel described the laptops to students as, “Fresh, really good, powerful laptops that were used in a corporate environment.” He added that they should last the students through high school and beyond.
During the demonstration, students were allowed to customize the background and set new passwords. They were also given WiFi routers with free service to last four years, along with carry bags.
Tech support is also provided at no charge.
Nearly a year ago, a generous donation from Montclair residents Donald Katz and Leslie Larson, provided the internet boxes that have been made available with free Sprint internet access. Though there is a federal program that helps fund modems for the home, the physical boxes cost $75 a piece.
Since inception, Laptop Upcycle has provided over 300 laptops to Montclair Public School students and have recently expanded to other communities.
The organization has now grown with the addition of key volunteers such as Mark Zbucki and Mike Brown, who have built the software and inventory systems to support the growth.
Bonesteel says, “Most importantly, an exciting aspect of the project is the growth of student volunteers.”
Each Sunday afternoon, Laptop Upcycle hosts open working sessions where High School students earn community service hours and learn how to repair and test laptops.
The students actively participate in the Give and Get activities of the organization, he explained.
This past Summer, two student volunteers, Ethan Che and Alex Rovalino from Glen Ridge HS, designed and taught a coding class for other eager High School students, giving back what they had learned.
High School students now do the majority of the installation and testing work on laptops that are donated, Bonesteel added.
In addition to delivering laptops to those who need them, Laptop Upcycle is quietly supporting a tech development and education hub for students in their lab.
Have an old laptop that you're looking to donate? Laptop Upcycle will securely wipe and refurbish your donated laptops and give them to Montclair students in need.
In attempt at providing laptops to every Montclair student in need, eligibility is based on free and reduced lunch status or verification from a school counselor or principal. In much the same way that Reaching Out Montclair helped to identify those who could benefit from the program, Laptop Upcycle has built relationships with staff in the public schools to help identify students in need and solve the technology gap.
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.