Closing the Digital Gap: Old Computers Find New Homes in Silicon Valley

Ten underprivileged families received computers thanks to CHAC and the Lions Club of Mountain View.

In a city with , some might find it ironic that there still are families here without computers.

As high-tech as the Silicon Valley is, it hasn't managed to escape what's been called a "digital gap:" the disparity between those who can afford technology, and those who cannot.

But almost two weeks ago, the gap grew a little smaller as 10 underprivileged families from various parts of the Silicon Valley received computers at the  Mercy Street Family Resource Center in Mountain View. The center is funded by FIRST 5 Santa Clara County.

The center teamed up with the Silicon Valley Lions Club, a service club based in San Jose. John Bodo recently became president of the organization and partnered it with his own non-profit, Project eCycle for this event. Project eCycle obtained ten Compaq desktop with Windows XP for the families.

One of the recipients was Santa Clara resident Patricia Romero, a single mother who struggles to make ends meet, much less buy a computer. She's looking for a job and currently lives with her mother and five children, between the ages of two and 13.

"Sometimes at school they do ask that they need some work be done on the computer," she said, "and not having one, it's really hard. They have to go all the way to the library."

FIRST 5 Program Director Maddi Pascua said that the new online registration in the was particularly challenging for families like Romero's.

"It's easier for a lot of people–except for these families who don't have computers–so they actually have had to come to our center," said Pascua. "And now this also gives them a means to do what they need to do electronically, to do what they need to do for their kids at school."

The families that received computers had to be low-income as well as have children, she said. The center primarily serves Latino and Asian families, and many of the adults needed the aid of translator and counseling staff member, Yadira Rios, to understand the training that was provided at the event.

Before the families went home, they received basic guidance in how to use antivirus software, connect to the internet and about Comcast's affordable monthly service for underprivileged families. They also learned how to monitor their children's activities online and be aware of what's appropriate for them to post on social media sites like , explained Bodo.

His charity, Project eCycle, collects and redistributes e-waste locally and internationally, from ultrasound machines in Vietnam to laptops in India. The charity had to procure the same computers for the event, which required buying the Compaqs by using funds raised from other donated machines.

Bodo said that in the last two years, companies have reduced their donations despite rapidly changing technology.

"One of the main reasons, in my opinion, is that they're just concerned about data security, and insurance and possible data leakage," he said.

Another recipient, 53-year-old East Palo Altan Carlos Jalpa, said he isn’t jealous or resentful of families who have computers.

“It’s not a luxury—it’s a need,” he said.

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