Laptop Upcycle congratulates fellow Montclair nonprofit Sister to Sister on the inauguration of their new lab at 11 Pine Street. Sisiter to Sister is one of the groups supported by Succeed2gether at this location. Our primary mission of course is to deliver high quality refurbished laptops and free wifi hotspots to students in need. In the course of our work to support these students we also often meet leaders of other local nonprofits. We hear their stories and we always try to think of other ways to help. Sister to Sister is one such success story.
We met their Director, Dr. Doris Bennett (above), in our lab back in October of 2019. She had been working with her team to provide after school mentoring and a study lab that could also support a series of STEAM classes and needed equipment. We had recently provided 10 laptops to the Mindful Awareness Academy for Children (MAAC) upstairs in the United Way building and luckily we had also been informed by one of our partners, Greg Campbell at the Electronic Access Foundation that one of his clients had a group of small form desktops available for donation. A plan was hatched!
The Electronic Access team coordinated the pick up of the generous donation from a local medical support organization in Parsippany and delivered the 10 HP desktops to our lab in Montclair. Once onsite, we did what we always do first to new equipment, our student volunteers wiped the drives and documented the destruction of all the information on the machines. Since these were donated from a medical firm, we also provided a detailed report on each machine processed to Greg for his donor. Then our team jumped in and imaged the machines for the Sister to Sister lab with our education focused Linux package. In November Jon delivered the machines to the lab and helped them set up the lab.
The first Bootcamp for the students in the new lab was in December on mobile application design and Sister to Sister looks to continue the after school program through 2020. We would also be remiss if we didn't mention that the Sister to Sister Secretary Lisa White has been awesome throughout this process and she even coordinated individual laptop GETS for a dozen Sister to Sister High School students. We're excited that we could help and we are thankful to all mentioned in this post for their help in making it a success! Sister to Sister is making a huge difference in Montclair and we're glad we could help them realize their dream.
Thank you to everyone who supported us with your donations last Tuesday on Giving Tuesday. We continue to accept contributions via our PayPal Donation page. Follow this link for more information.
We know you are busy, so are we. We'll keep this short -
We at Laptop Upcycle support a simple, yet effective model that gets technology into the hands of students who need it. Laptop Upcycle locates and collects laptop donations, refurbishes them, and then hands them out to eligible students. Our goal is to eliminate the technology gap that directly contributes to the achievement gap in our schools.
In addition to many generous local individual donors and small businesses, we have also received multiple donations from larger companies. Our new “Laptop Legends” program celebrates these corporate donors who have been critical to the success of Laptop Upcycle.
Businesses who forgo the easier option of using a corporate reseller, and who choose to donate laptops to us are making the decision to directly improve the lives of young adults in our schools. We applaud and celebrate these “Laptop Legends” who have decided to give back to our communities, and further our mission of “Give and Get.”
We can think of no better start for our “Laptop Legend” program than our generous donor, Essence.
On May 2, 2019, Laptop Upcycle received a donation of 64 high quality Dell laptops from Essence's New York office. This most recent donation follows three other donations to Laptop Upcycle from the Essence Global IT department, bringing their total donation to date to 140 laptops and chargers.
The donations from Essence have occurred at the most opportune times. The first donation by Essence and its VP of Global Information Technology, Colin McCarthy, of 28 Dell laptops in October, 2016 helped us kick- start our efforts in Montclair, and allowed Laptop Upcycle to provide our first donations, or “gets” to Montclair students at both the High School and Buzz Aldrin Middle School. Since then, we have given out over 420 laptops in our local area. And each time our stock has dipped low, the Essence team has been there with a generous donation to help support our mission.
Most recently, Laptop Upcycle has expanded to our neighboring communities who also have a desperate need for technology for their students. Greater Newark LIfecamp, contacted us this Spring with a request to equip their two classrooms with laptops to support over 500 student campers this summer. The Life Camp gives inner city students the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling and fun experience in Pottersville, NJ. The most recent donation from Essence gave us the resources to support these kids! In this instance, we are lending laptops to this camp so they may be used during the Summer and then returned to us to be available for local kids or other organizations in need. Essence has helped make this happen. They are truly a “Laptop Legend".
Thank you Essence and Colin McCarthy. Laptop Upcycle welcomes you as our first “Laptop Legend.”
Essence is a global data and measurement-driven agency whose mission is to make advertising more valuable to the world.
Above are some of the in process laptops we have in the lab. Our volunteers are the key to our success, and our Strategic Director, Mike Brown, pulls it all together. This week as school winds down for our local Public School students, Laptop Upcycle has been very busy. Since we want to roll it all in to one post for our social media feed, here are some bullet points:
We're still a very young organization and we run on a thin margin with the help of a great group of volunteers. Therefore it's awesome news when we receive a second grant from a respected local organization like The Montclair Foundation. Please see our full Press Release here.
Let us explain, please.
The cages we refer to are those thin metal attachments to hard drives that keep them in place inside your laptop. It is important that hard drives seat properly in a laptop for two primary reasons, 1) hard drives are connected to the logic board and if not seated and secured properly they may disconnect and then the laptop will not work, and 2) hard drives are sensitive mechanical and electronic devices. If they are allowed to float around inside a laptop, they may become damaged. This is actually more of a problem, since the owner may lose data if not properly backed up. You back up your data, right?
How about a couple of photos to explain?
On the left we see a 2.5" laptop hard drive. On the right is an aluminum cage that the drive mounts to with the screws. Then the cage/drive pair is mounted to the case of the laptop. Typically, the combo slides in and connects just right for each laptop, and each laptop is different.
We at Laptop Upcycle receive many laptops from our neighbors and from businesses they are associated with. We thank you all of course, and always hope you spread the word.
As a part of our preparation process on donated laptops, we zero out the hard drive as the very first step. We use a secure erase system that eliminates any trace of data on donated laptops. Even with this, we understand if you or your company would like to remove the hard drives before you donate to us. In fact we recently we lucky enough to have two large donations from Milliman and the Boston Consulting Group. All of these donated laptops came to us sans hard drives (and cages). That's OK, since we have some funds from our generous supporters to buy equipment like hard drives for our volunteers to use.
The intelligent reader (aren't we all?) can see the problem we face in such situations. When a hard drive is removed from a laptop, the mounting cage is typically removed with it. To replace the hard drive in these laptops, we need to find replacement cages. Many of these laptops are older and it's hard to find accessories, like cages. If we want to repair these laptops and get them in the hands of students, what is a humble nonprofit to do?
We MAKE our own cages. Again, photos help.
On the left is a donated laptop with the rear cover removed. We've labeled a few of the parts, and note where the hard drive needs to connect in the drive bay. Without a cage it will float around in there - not a good thing. So, we designed multiple versions of possible plastic cages to be 3D printed (seen in the middle). It took many tries since the clearances are tight and plastic has to be a little bigger than metal to retain enough strength, but we did it! On the right, you see three of the final version being printed and below you can see what it looks like when it is installed in the laptop. Now this laptop can get our education image (software install) and get delivered to a student who needs it. Win win!
Have any questions, or want to donate your own laptop (with or without a hard drive)? Email us at email@example.com.
Each year end, we all typically reflect on our accomplishments, and look forward to the next year with plans, goals, and aspirations. At Laptop Upcycle we have enjoyed an exciting and fulfilling year as we have continued to deliver on our mission of eliminating the technology gap for students in our local public schools. Please indulge me as I share details of our wins in 2018 below and map out a few of our plans for the year to come.
Deliveries of laptops in and around Montclair, NJ have now exceeded 300 since our project started in late 2015 and 2018 saw a constant increase in deliveries to students in our schools. Most impressively, in the last 3 months of the year we gave 87 laptops to excited young adults. Our team of volunteers has worked hard to get the word out about laptop availability and this tells me that our efforts have been successful. Partnerships with counselors and teachers in our schools as well as other excellent nonprofits locally has been a key factor in this uptick. I invite you to have a look at this story on TAP Montclair which includes photos of a delivery to 12 students just last week which was done in conjunction with Reaching Out Montclair.
Each of the families in attendance last week also received a free wifi hotspot, which as a part of the US Sprint ConnectedED program, delivers free connectivity to these (and other) families in need for 4 years. We at Laptop Upcycle are excited that we are able to continue this important compliment to the Laptop delivery project. US Sprint supplies the connectivity and bandwidth, but the hotspot devices must be purchased. A generous grant from the Don Katz and Leslie Larson Foundation in 2018 provided the funds for Laptop Upcycle to purchase these, and we are very thankful to them for the continued support.
Our hardware deliveries in 2018 certainly are noteworthy, but the project’s uniqueness and success lies in our volunteer and student outreach activities – our people. In its most simple form, each information technology system is input, output, and a black box in between those that does some things. For Laptop Upcycle, the black box is the testing, data wiping, repair (if needed), operating system install, more testing, and cleaning. In 2018 we transitioned most of this work to High School student volunteers.
We like that the students enjoy their time in the lab and demonstrate a willingness to jump in to any challenge we offer up to them. This past Summer two of our student volunteers from the year prior created, organized, and presented a week-long coding camp for other younger students in conjunction with the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation. Ethan Che and Alex Rovalino, seniors from Glen Ridge High School did a great job. Most every Sunday afternoon, you will find a mix of adult volunteers (myself, Mike Brown, or Mark Zbucki) leading and training a diverse group of students. They learn, they get our laptops ready, and they have fun. It’s a great time and we welcome others to join us.
In the lab we have also made great improvements in our internal systems and inventory management. In addition to leading and tutoring our volunteers at our work sessions, Mark and Mike have each spent a great deal of time refining our systems, Mark on the network and Ubuntu image we use on our laptops and Mike with the inventory processing and back office systems.
Finally, a summary of 2018 would not be complete without mention of progress in support of our nonprofit. Co-founder John Wisniewski and Frances Smith have been making progress with our nascent grant and fund raising effort which resulted in a Best Buy grant in support of our education programs. Our new volunteer Brigeth Rivera and co-founder Sarah Damaskos have restarted our marketing and public relations activities and volunteer James Walker has kept us current in the accounting realm. As a 100% volunteer shop, we can’t be more appreciative to all who help. Thank you to all!
Plans for 2019
For the New Year, Laptop Upcycle will seek to continue the growth and refinement of our core mission, to provide the tools our local students need to eliminate the technology gap and help them succeed in school. Expansion in other strategic areas will complement this mission. With appropriate levels of resources, volunteers, we plan to:
In closing, thank you to all who have donated your time, talents, financial donations, or laptops to Laptop Upcycle in 2018! We are looking forward to a great New Year in 2019 and welcome any new volunteers or partners. As always, you may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have an excellent July continuing in the Laptop Upcycle lab. Our Introduction to Computing class for prior recipients of laptops from our program, those who GET laptops, is now in the middle of its third week and the 5 High School students are spending the week learning Android Studio. Next week they will be working on developing an app for us to track our laptops as they are received, worked on, and then distributed to students in our schools. We have also enjoyed the volunteer work of other interns as we work through the large GIVE (donation) from our partner the Electronic Access Foundation. Today, Ben is combining three nonworking models into one functioning one and after class we'll image some laptops, make some cat5 cables, and take apart an iMac to clear it of the dust that's causing it to overheat.
On Common Sense -
We like to pride ourselves on our savvy technical skills. We're proudly geeks in may ways. If we don't know something, we will seek out that knowledge and then apply it to the task at hand.
So it was frustrating to us when the refrigerators in our lab kept failing. We run on a tight budget, so our equipment is generally something we obtain from donation or trolling Craigslist. If you doubt us, come by and look at our mish mash of chairs here. Anyhow, we had a large full size fridge we picked up in Glen Ridge a few months back and a dorm size one for water a friend had donated. With our activities (above) and the other meetings we host such as the Northern NJ Wordpress group, we need to keep beverages cool.
We would come in to the lab, open each fridge, the lights would be on, but they wouldn't be cool. Finally, the Wordpress folks lost patience with us and they bought their one fridge. It was used and beat up, so when even it wouldn't keep their beer cold, I threw up my hands and called "a guy". The day before he was set to stop by we had a Board meeting where the topic was discussed and we lamented our poor choice in equipment.
It was then that our co-founder John Wisniewski mentioned that he knew what the problem is. He walked over to the light switch for the lab, turned them out and the opened the fridge door. You guessed it - no light. The power outlet we had been using for the refrigerators is switched and tied in to the lab lights circuit. So when ever we turned out the lights and left the lab, we also were turning off the fridges. It's not obvious, but we felt pretty dumb and were humbled. Sometimes it pays to think "outside of the box".
We switched to a different non-switched outlet and we are all cool.
The Laptop Upcycle team is excited to provide a number of educational and volunteer opportunities to get you or your young adult out of the house and engaged in our project to provide laptops to kids in Montclair that need them. As our student “gets” of laptops have increased, our mission of closing the technology gap for kids in our schools requires a larger group of passionate volunteers who understand technology and can help us repair and renovate the donations we receive so we can get them out to students. We hope to train new volunteers, build the team, and have fun doing it.
For students in the Montclair Public Schools, we offer community service hours that can be applied towards your school requirement. You’ll also learn some tech and have an opportunity to share what you know or get involved in other areas of the project. Each of these activities will be held in our lab in the United Way building (60 South Fullerton Ave, lower level) in Montclair. We’re next door to the library, so it’s easy to walk or bike to.
The Summer program will run from July 9, 2018 until August 3, 2018. Please see each project area below for specific days and times.
Laptop Upcycles Introduction to Computing Class
This 4 week class meets Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM until Noon in the lab (July 9 – August 3). The class has been created and will be run by two Laptop Upcycle interns from last Summer, Ethan Che and Alex Rovalino. In addition to helping us as interns for the last year and a half, they are rising seniors at Glen Ridge High School. The course will present will the basics of computers and coding with the final goal of creating an application that Laptop Upcycle will use to track and manage its inventory. Topics will include Scratch, Java, Android Studio. This is not only a course, but also an internship opportunity. As such, we expect that those who attend be hard, diligent workers. Ideally, those who take the class this Summer will follow in Ethan & Alex’s footsteps and give back to Laptop Upcycle in the future.
Middle and high school students will be accepted. So, be prepared to learn, work, and have fun! Board members Jon Bonesteel, Mike Brown, and Mark Zbucki will be rotating as the official Laptop Upcycle proctors of the class. Please note that space in this class is very limited. There is no fee for this class, but donations to Laptop Upcycle to defray the cost are certainly accepted.
Laptop Upcycle Laptop Basics and Repair Intern Sessions
Each day after the Introduction to Computing class finishes, the lab will remain open for no more than 90 minutes and volunteers will work on our laptop stock. This Summer we have been lucky to receive two large donations, but we need techies to test, repair, and install systems on them. Our team will assist and coordinate volunteers on this task. If you want to learn how laptops work and at the same time get them ready for students in the Fall, join us! We will post an event each day on our Laptop Upcycle Volunteer facebook group so you will know if the day is “on”. Please sign up for the event there so we know how many to expect.
Laptop Upcycle Ad Hoc Technology Meetups
The team will also offer ad hoc technology meetups during this time frame as scheduling allows. Topics will include 3d printing, soldering with basic circuits, and Raspberry Pi projects. For these special classes, we ask that you join our meetup group here (link will be added) for announcements.