When a smartphone won’t cut it: Rise of remote world ups demand for retired Boston Fed laptops When a smartphone won’t cut it: Rise of remote world ups demand for retired Boston Fed laptops

COVID-19 restrictions spike need for laptops among social service orgs COVID-19 restrictions spike need for laptops among social service orgs

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December 3, 2020

Everybody loves a smartphone. But when you’re updating a resume, applying for a job, or attending remote class and a smartphone is your main tool, the limitations of its small screen and keyboard become quickly apparent.

And that’s when a laptop can come in handy.

The Federal Bank of Boston has long donated its retired laptops to regional social service organizations. But since the pandemic began – and work and education went online en masse – the need has become acute and the Fed’s program has been in demand.

That’s because many low-income families access the internet primarily through a smartphone, said Colleen Dawicki, a manager for Working Places, a Boston Fed community development initiative.

But a laptop is a far superior tool when so much learning, writing, and correspondence is now remote, she said. And during the pandemic, the Fed’s program has gotten these highly sought machines to Working Places partners who need them on opposite ends of New England.

In Newport, Rhode Island, job seekers will log onto the laptops to pursue work opportunities. In western Massachusetts, several dozen donated laptops will be used by children and families at the Holyoke/ Chicopee/ Springfield Head Start, a school readiness program for preschool-aged children and younger.

“This was a huge blessing for our agency,” said Lori Chaves, director of clinical and family services at the Head Start. “It really helped on many levels.”

As need increases, no Boston Fed laptops will be disposed

The Boston Fed started the laptop program 15 years ago, and it donates about 100 of the roughly 300 laptops it retires each year. The rest are returned to a disposal company, which gives a credit for each machine.

But with the need caused by COVID-19 this year, the Bank is planning to donate all its retired laptops, said Patricia Gomez, an asset management specialist for the Bank’s IT department.

“All of the plans that we had last year (for disposal) changed completely,” she said.

The donated laptops are about three years old and work well, Gomez said. The Bank replaces the devices once they’re past the manufacturer’s warranty and any repairs won’t be covered.

Laptops help out school kids, job seekers, community advocates

On a recent October weekend, a minivan picked up 96 of the laptops at the Boston Fed and carted them back to western Massachusetts.

About 30 went to Dress for Success, a program that provides women with attire and training for professional jobs. A handful went to the Springfield Works, a Working Cities Challenge-funded initiative focused on increasing workforce participation. Head Start got 60.

Chaves said many children they serve have developmental delays, so the bigger laptop screen really helps keep them engaged. She added that the laptops also generally keep the families connected, so Head Start and its partners can ensure basic needs are being met during the pandemic.

In Rhode Island, most of the laptops will be used at the Florence Gray Center, a community gathering place that hosts educational and workforce training activities in Newport’s densely packed North End neighborhood.

Kate Cantwell, initiative director at a Working Places-funded effort in Newport called the Working Cities Collaborative, said the laptops will augment a computer lab heavily used for job searches and work-related paperwork. They’ll also be used by a new women-led group that advocates for Spanish-speaking families on issues like fair housing and emergency funding for basic needs.

”Having a laptop with the latest software can be the difference between getting work done and taking a step forward, or staying disconnected, isolated, and continually frustrated during this pandemic,” Cantwell said.

Helping these agencies help others is exactly why the laptop donation program exists, Dawicki said. “And it's fulfilling the Fed’s mission, too,” she added, “because it's helping people who want to contribute to the economy get access to economic opportunity.”

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