Last week, during the quarterly staff retreat, NTEN staff toured Free Geek. Free Geek is a technology reuse, recycle, and education nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. Several NTEN staff have been long-time supporters, and NTEN has always donated its old electronics to Free Geek. It was great to get out of the office together and see the good work being done with technology and nonprofits right here in Portland.
Free Geek accepts electronic waste of all kinds, refurbishes items that can be reused, and ethically and responsibly recycles items that have reached their end of life. Electronics that live to see another day are given back to the community or sold in Free Geek’s thrift store. Since 2000, Free Geek has given away over 16,000 computers to community members, nonprofits, social good groups, and schools. Free Geek keeps costs low and in line with its values by sending computers out with the free and open source Ubuntu operating system (rather than purchasing Windows licenses, for example).
With 500-600 active volunteers at any given time, it’s easy to understand that, not only does the community love this organization, but volunteers are key to the success of the mission. Volunteers help staff triage and test incoming electronics donations, then help tear down or rebuild components. There is no skill requirement for getting involved. Anyone can volunteer and learn how to build computers at Free Geek—and it shows in the diversity of their volunteer base. It’s not uncommon to see retirees working next to kids picking up new skills during school breaks or people in transition hoping to gain professional development. Free Geek also has a strong program for Spanish-speaking volunteers.
In addition to recycling and refurbishing technology, Free Geek provides a wealth of classes that are free and open to the public. Classes are developed and led by volunteers and range from basic computer literacy, social media 101, intro to programming concepts to sessions on HTML, CSS, WordPress, and Lego Robotics. (Lego Robotics!)
We enjoyed our visit to Free Geek and are excited to share it with the community!