A Kansas City-built nonprofit hoping to refurbish the metro’s perception of digital inclusivity is now an affiliate of PCs for People — a nationwide network with a shared goal.
“Digital inclusion is ensuring that everybody — regardless of their income or where they live — has access to at least three things: affordable internet, affordable computers and digital skills,” said Tom Esselman, longtime CEO of Connecting for Good and now executive director of PCs for People in Kansas City. “Connecting for Good has worked with PCs for People in the past, and the more we worked together, the more we realized we would be stronger merging together.”
Since 2011, Kansas City nonprofit Connecting for Good has established Wi-Fi networks and developed training programs in digital literacy. The national PCs for People organization has been refurbishing computers and connecting people to the internet since 1998.
The partnership — made official June 1 — strengthens both organizations in accomplishing their goals, especially as COVID-19 has increased society’s dependence on technology, Esselman said.
“It was a full-blown explosion for tech need,” he said, referencing COVID driving people to remote, online work and school. “In a normal year, we have probably distributed about 1,000 computers in a year. We distributed 1,000 computers just in the month of May this year.
“The demand from low-income households is only one side of the equation,” he continued. “The other side is the sourcing side. Businesses have computers to donate, but many of them are currently shut down and can’t donate. Some aren’t aware that donating is an option; they pay for recyclers to take care of their IT assets, when we can do those services without a fee.”
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Although Connecting for Good and PCs for People arranged an asset contribution agreement, Esselman said that local funders, foundations and individual donors can be assured that all of the money donated to PCs for People in Kansas City will benefit the Kansas City community.
“That was a really important part of the arrangement because we wanted to ensure that community impact,” Esselman said. “In exchange for us giving all of [Connecting for Good’s] assets to PCs for people, we now have: a developed IT, finance and HR system, more buying power for parts and a whole fleet of trucks between Denver and Maryland. It’s really exciting what we are able to do.”
All of Connecting for Good’s staff also gained healthcare benefits and a 401K savings plan — benefits that Esselman said the company was previously not able to afford.
It’s not the first time Connecting for Good has forged deep collaboration with another organization. In 2019, The Surplus Exchange — a KC nonprofit that specialized in electronic recycling — merged with Connecting for Good to further what Esselman described as a theme of “building resilient communities.”
Click here to read more about Connecting for Good’s consolidation with The Surplus Exchange.
More recently, COVID exposed to the public the struggles for low-income households not having access to home internet and computers, Esselman noted. From that awareness, comes opportunity, he added
“Since Connecting for Good began, our No. 1 core value was the idea that connectivity equals opportunity,” he said. “As more people and organizations are recognizing this problem and what we can do to solve it, we are creating this network for those providing digital opportunities.
“Whether you’re an individual at home, or a business, or municipal government or a family that needs help, everybody can be part of this digital opportunity network. … We must ensure that everyone has equal access to the opportunities that come with being digitally connected. No matter what side of any political divide you might be on, we cannot deny that we are all better off if we have the opportunity to stay connected.”
For more on the digital inclusion movement, check out the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.