'Repair It Forward' program donates refurbished computers to 25 refugees in mid-Missouri

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 6:02 p.m. CDT; updated 6:49 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Justus Palmer, right, a freshman from Rock Bridge High School, loads donated computers to Senad Music from Refugee and Immigrations Services of Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri on Tuesday. The computers were donated by the Missouri Employers Mutual who then sent them to the Columbia Area Career Center as part of the Repair It Forward program. Rock Bridge students prepared the computers to be donated.

COLUMBIA — Community philanthropy took the form of donated computers Tuesday morning when a class at Columbia Area Career Center gave 25 refurbished machines to the Refugee and Immigration Services.

The donation stemmed from a new "Repair It Forward" program at the career center. The new computer recycling program was designed by the A-plus IT Essentials class. Instructor David Hopkins, who started the program in January, sees it as a great way to teach kids how to repair computers. 

"They get a nice cross section of what's out there and get a chance to rebuild them," Hopkins said.

All students in the IT Essentials class come from Southern Boone, Columbia and Hallsville high schools. 

Hopkins said clients contact them by phone or email. Students then refurbish the laptop or desktop machines, provide them with operating systems and prepare them for delivery.

For the recent donation, "Repair It Forward" partnered with Missouri Employers Mutual, which is dedicated to safe workplaces. MEM donated more than 100 computers to start the program. The Islamic School of Columbia received the first dozen.

Brad Sites, IT operations supervisor at MEM, said his organization had a surplus of machines after upgrading several employees' machines. 

"It's important to MEM to be involved in and support communities where we work," Sites said. "It's one of our corporate values, and employees take it seriously."

After MEM's donation, Hopkins reached out to Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

The Refugee and Immigration Services is provided by the Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri to offer services to immigrants who recently moved to the mid-Missouri area including Columbia. Katie Freehling, job developer and community outreach coordinator, said Refugee and Immigration Services contracts with the government to guide refugees through the resettlement process once they reach the United States.

Freehling's job is to connect with refugees once they are accepted to Columbia's program and help them develop the skills to help them get jobs and settle into a everyday life. 

The Refugee and Immigration Services program provides the refugees with employment services, case management, initial housing and cultural and community orientation to help them adapt to their new surroundings. Freehling said having a computer at home will help them start their new lives.

The refugees who settle in Columbia come from many countries including, Myanmar, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq. 

There are a few considerations for those requesting computers. Families with children and individuals actively searching for jobs are among those who are eligible. 

Refugee and Immigrant Services does not receive donations such as computers often, so this was a unique opportunity, Freehling said.

"One reason we're excited to work with the career center is that there will always be a continuous need to donate," she said.  

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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