Exposing the Digital Divide: how the pandemic revealed what we can all do to improve digital equity
Hoboken, New Jersey (July 27, 2021) – Dylan Zajac wants you to know two things about the Digital Divide—it was a problem long before the pandemic and there is a simple way you can fix it.
“It’s interesting. Most people didn’t realize the Digital Divide existed until the pandemic. But there was a massive need for technology for doing things such as homework and job searches online.”
Zajac is the Founder and Executive Director of Computers 4 People, a nonprofit based out of his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey.
“Because of the pandemic people now see having a computer as important for everyone,” he continued. “Before that it was hard to spread the message or create understanding that people really do need this. Now, all our city officials understand that it is not just important, it’s a necessity.”
Over 2020 Computers 4 People expanded to accommodate the growing need. But, even now, there are 150 to 200 people on the organization’s waiting list that need a computer, laptop, or tablet and Zajac says you can help check off that list.
“So many people have old computers in their closets,” he said. “All they have to do is donate it, and our organization takes care of everything. We wipe all the information from it, fix it up, and then provide it to someone in need.”
It’s good advice from the nonprofit’s leader—who came up with the idea for Computers 4 People in 2018 when he was just 15 years old.
Collect, refurbish, donate
“My friends and I would see a lot of e-waste when we’d go to thrift shops. We noticed there were tons of electronics that were just being thrown away, so they started fixing them up and I would sell them,” he said.
How many of us can say that we saw a problem in our community and did something about it—especially as a teenager?
“My step-mom works at a nonprofit and suggested we could do more and help people,” Zajac continued. “So, I learned how to get 501(C)3 status to make Computers 4 People officially a nonprofit, built a website, and now we collect, refurbish, and donate computers to help individuals and families who need them.”
The organization now partners with more than 30 different nonprofits across Northern New Jersey and in New York City. These range from homeless shelters to food banks and schools. The partner organizations write recommendations for individuals as a way to vet who receives the refurbished computers.
“We also work Easter Seals New Jersey,” Zajac explained. “We gave them over 100 computers to go to senior citizens and for their jobs programs. We’re also starting to work with more schools and helping graduating seniors, so that when they go to college they have a computer.”
Computers 4 People was also one of 124 awardees across the country to receive free hotspots and internet service through the AT&T homework gap program. The program is providing 35,000 hotspots to vulnerable students and was administered by national nonprofit, Connected Nation.
Computers 4 People’s work stood out as an example of positive community engagement that seeks to directly close the Digital Divide. The group received 50 hotspots which went to ten organizations throughout the area including Haven Adolescent Respite Center, the Hoboken Housing Authority, and the York Street Project in Jersey City (June distribution event is pictured left).
“The global pandemic has elevated to a new level the importance of connectivity for education, healthcare, commerce, and almost all aspects of our lives,” New Jersey State Assemblyman Raj Mukheri told AT&T in June when the hotspots were distributed to the York Street Project. “I applaud Computers 4 People for all they’re doing to equip our communities and support our vulnerable neighbors in getting online. Special thanks to Connected Nation and AT&T for launching this program.”
Now, nearly three years after the idea was born, Computers 4 People has helped hundreds of people and Zajac has graduated high school (just about a month ago). He says that means he will now be able to dedicate even more of his time to the organization as its Executive Director.
“My vision is to expand this even further,” he said. “We are able to provide the hardware, so we also need to think about digital literacy training. Now that our partners’ clients are using their devices, we want to support them long term.
“There are really three parts to the Digital Divide that all of us should be working to address—the need for computers and hardware, digital literacy training, and access to affordable broadband.”
If you’d like to support Zajac’s work through Computers 4 People, you can donate a device or funds. The nonprofit is hosting a fundraising event on August 4. You can take part or help sponsor the event by clicking here.
You can also learn more about Computers 4 People, by heading to the nonprofit’s website at computers4people.org.