Free Desktop Computers Through Mission Ignite

by Nanette D. Massey

Mission Ignite Seeks to Place Free Desktop Computers for Children in East Side Homes And More!

It is estimated that almost 40% of homes in Buffalo do not have a computer with regular broadband internet access. A disproportionate number of those households are black. The “digital divide,” populations with ready access to the web vs. those without, is bridged to a large degree in the younger generation by cell phones, but these devices are woefully inadequate when it comes to completing homework, job searches, and in depth consumer research. Enter Mission Ignite, Powered by Computers For Children at 701 Seneca Street, suite 601, in the Larkinville district.

With funding from a grant through KeyBank Foundation, Mission Ignite administers the School 2 Home=Key 2 Success Program for public school children. This initiative aims to place 180 desktop computers in homes on Buffalo’s East Side for free. Additionally, households with eligible 9th graders can qualify for four years of free internet access through a partnership with Sprint. Monthly access is limited to enough time to stay connected for school projects so be advised- other arrangements need to be made for hours of YouTube videos or World of Warcraft sessions.

Students and their parents attend two training sessions of three hours each to familiarize the entire family with common computer technology and usage. “Often we see a situation,” explains Executive Director Christine Carr, “where parents have grown up without technology around them, feel they did just fine, and don’t really see the need.” Including parents educates them on why it is important, introduces parents to the Buffalo Public School online portal allowing for instant viewing of your child’s grades and attendance, and demonstrates the computer’s benefit to the entire family.

The sessions are held at East High School on Northampton Street as part of BPS’s Community Schools initiative and are scheduled as frequently as bi-weekly depending on how quickly they fill up. Mission Ignite is about a lot more than just free computers though. It began 20 years ago when a few area tech men discovered companies like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, First Niagara, and Northwest Bank had stashes of unused computers due to mergers and office-wide upgrades.

They began collecting and refurbishing them, and made them available at low cost to school children and non-profit agencies. Working with schools and other community partners, MI now delivers hands-on learning in coding, science experiments, software applications, even robotics and 3D modeling/ printing. Its overall mission is to enhance educational opportunities for economically challenged communities and level the technology playing field throughout the city. Today individuals can get in on the savings too and acquire these computers at a steal for between $99 and $299. They also do repair services on the cheap, starting at a one hour bench fee of $50.

If your diagnosis and repair take no more than an hour, that’s all you pay. The “Foundation For the Future” effort is an apprenticeship opportunity with Mission Ignite for middle and high school kids. Students spend time at the Larkin Street facility involved in a variety of tasks like sorting computer parts to learn exactly what they are, how they work, taking them apart, and reassembling whole computers with them. Under the guidance of Managing Director John Brown and others, students are also exposed to entrepreneurial enterprising, critical thinking, and guidance in soft skills where shy and tech minded kids can sometimes be impaired.

The ultimate aim is twofold. Kids get exposure to many areas of technology and can find their own perfect niche, while making them workforce ready for apprenticeship positions with Buffalo companies Mission Ignite has partnerships with. This program is perfect for the child who drives you nuts disassembling your toaster or radio just to see how it works. It runs after school during the school year. During the summer work immersion, some kids even get paid for their participation through 4H, My Brother’s Keeper, or the Mayor’s Summer Youth Program.

Ramod Malone is 15 and starting the 10th grade at Middle Early College High School this year. He’s been a Mission Ignite apprentice for 2 years. “The work is hard,” he says, but worthwhile in advancing him toward his chosen career in tech support. He’s learned how to set up computers, move files around, and how to locate the site Snopes.com where anyone can assess the validity of iffy circulating news they may receive by social media. Damone Hall, 17, a senior at Math Science Technology Prep has become more versed in the technology and science behind computers and how they work. More importantly, “I really learned a lot about getting along with and working with people.” He’s planning a career in computer engineering for himself. In the spring, look for MI’s WNY Brain Challenge, a Rube Goldberg- style competition held at ECC South where teams of students get together to imagine and build comically overly engineered apparatuses. Help with transportation to Orchard Park is available.

Mission Ignite is always looking for donations in the form of unused machinery and of course volunteer time. College students, retired teachers and executives, and anyone looking for opportunities to enhance the lives of tech-minded youths are encouraged to get involved. Contact Say Yes To Education, one of Mission Ignite’s partners, to find out how to connect with School 2 Home=Key 2 Success about a computer for your child.