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Nonprofit Plugs Boston Community Into Power Of The Internet

TEK Collaborative Gives Electronic Devices To Those In Need

Jeff Williams’ Technology, Education, and Kindness (TEK) Collaborative distributes electronic devices to community members in need. Based in Amesbury, MA, the nonprofit started in 2020 when Williams, who has an IT background, started posting free used tech equipment on Facebook. 

He immediately noticed the demand was staggering as students and teachers shifted to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, TEK has distributed nearly 5,000 devices across 20 communities, supporting more than 13,000 individuals.

“Just like lots of other businesses, that through the pandemic, found that there was a huge need for devices that were internet enabled,” Williams said to WBZ News. “Teachers, they were trying to teach on computers that they used in college 15–20 years earlier. Students were trying to learn on their parents’ phones.”

Photo Courtesy TEK Collaborative  

According to TEK Collaborative, at least 36 million Americans have no online access. That’s nearly one out of every 10 Americans who cannot readily access the internet, social media, or email.

The implications include difficulty with health care, an inability to pay bills, and a lack of access to job applications and up-to-date information. 

TEK wants to make sure everybody has equitable access. The company has continued to expand its reach by partnering with the Essex County Community Foundation’s (ECCF) Advancing Digital Equity Initiative. It helps empower all residents with the equipment and education necessary to navigate all aspects of the ever-changing digital world.

TEK’s devices are often refurbished machines that have been discarded but repaired. To sign up for one — including immediate needs for telehealth or job searches — interested parties can apply online. TEK is so in demand that there is often a waitlist. Computers and tablets must be picked up in person at the organization’s offices. 

Any Massachusetts resident who receives equipment is encouraged to join Boston’s Affordable Connectivity Program. It gives households up to $30 monthly to be used for internet service providers.

These three programs working together are making significant changes for participants.

Photo Courtesy TEK Collaborative 

“To provide truly equitable opportunities to engage with the online world, you really have to layer in all of these facets,” Stratton Lloyd, executive vice president and COO of ECCF, said in an ECCF blog post. “You start with the device, but you also have to provide access to the internet and the education that people need to take full advantage of the technology.”

“This is why partnerships have such incredible value,” he continued. “We have to work together to connect all those dots.” 

TEK devices go to a wide range of people in need — women recovering from substance abuse, seniors, and evacuees from various parts of the globe.

Photo Courtesy TEK Collaborative 

“I am in contact with these individuals every single day,” Melissa Marrama, a volunteer with ECCF, said in the ECCF blog post. “What people don’t understand is that without a computer, they can’t do anything. They need a computer to check their INS status. They need a computer to apply for a driver’s license. It’s hitting every facet of life.”

“It’s no questions asked, so if someone asks for a device, they get a device,” Williams told WBZ News. “It’s the most content and fulfilling job I’ve ever had in my life. Every one of these devices has the potential to change somebody’s life.”

Photo Courtesy TEK Collaborative 

“It’s so easy to take the things that we have for granted,” he said in the ECCF blog post. “Those things that we’re disposing of have such a tremendous opportunity to mean something to someone else.”

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