In 1998, Andy Elofson, a social worker with Blue Earth County, met with a young man who was expelled for misusing school computers. In an effort to help, Andy gave him an old computer the county wasn't using anymore. Six months later, the young man was creating a positive future for himself and others by developing web pages for local businesses and churches.
That is when PCs for People began. For the next 10 years, PCs for People operated out of a small office in Mankato, MN. Through the hard work of Andy and computer-savvy volunteers, the office's impact grew.
Our mission is to create new opportunities by providing affordable personal computers, computer repairs, internet service, and education to people with limited technological experience due to social, physical, or economic circumstances. In a concerted effort to bring PCs for People's mission to a larger constituency, we expanded to the Twin Cities!
Move to Saint Paul Headquarters
In 2008, volunteer Casey Sorensen became PCs for People's first Executive Director. That year, we opened our St. Paul headquarters, received our 501(c)(3) non-profit status and became certified through the National Association of Information Destruction (NAID) for data sanitization. PCs for People soon moved from our small office to a larger building on Marshall Avenue -- in what had previously been an old ice cream factory. Since opening, we've given out more computers each year. Our staff has increased from a few volunteers to 14 paid employees, multiple interns, Community Employment workers from TSE, and even more volunteers.
In 2012, PCs for People partnered with nonprofit Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon to offer low-cost, unlimited data internet through Clear. Clients could now afford to go online with the PCs and laptops they received. This greatly expanded our organization, with thousands of new clients signing up for internet each year -- some connecting at home for the first time.
In early 2016, we expanded our coverage to use the Sprint network to help provide better coverage and faster speeds. Our nationwide customers can access unlimited data at 4G LTE speeds.
On-Going Projects & Grants
In 2010, PCs for People launched PCs for Kids to provide home computers to families with an elementary-aged child by partnering with schools in various midwest communities. Having a computer available at home gives a significant advantage to students by allowing immediate access to information, study materials and educational opportunities. This project has been very successful with support from the Otto Bremer Foundation, allowing thousands of families to recieve their own free computers in the past 5 years.
In the Spring of 2010, the Blandin Foundation, PCs for People, and 18 other coalition partners received a $4.7 million grant award on behalf of rural Minnesota communities. The program was titled Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) and it's goal was to bring a network of resources to rural Minnesota communities - especially those unemployed and seeking employment, small businesses, and local leaders. This grant expanded broadband and computer use in rural Minnesota areas.
Through the Blandin Foundation we strive to address broadband adoption within rural communities on the Blandin Broadband Communities Project. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration reported that PCs for People's computers helped "parents pursuing higher education while they took care of their children at home; parents being better able to communicate with their children's schools using the internet and email; and individuals searching for and finding jobs." Access to the internet increases digital literacy skills and inclusion into the digitally-connected world.
Through the Otto Bremer Foundation we worked with five communities across the Upper Midwest, partnering with Workforce Centers and school districts to get computers and low-cost internet into the hands of those that lack this necessary life-line.
PCs for People will continue to strive to engage an entire community and leverage existing resources to address the digital inclusion disparities on a local and sustainable level.
In 2015, PCs for People distributed 8,552 computers and completed 2,346 repairs. Of the computers distributed, 2,400 of them were at no cost to the recipients through our PCs for Kids program. The average family size that we worked with was 3.3 people with a household income of $12,800.