Sometimes an unforeseeable force gathers a group of people together to create something they could never have done without the help of the others. Tech For All is a nonprofit that takes donations of damaged, broken or out of date computers, fixes them up and gives them to families in need. This is no small task. If you ask the founder of Tech for All, Rose Keating, how she does it, she will tell you that it is the wonderful people that work with her that make it all possible.
What began as three used computers Keating refused to dispose of, turned into Tech For All, which has put more than 9,800 computers into the hands of people who would otherwise never be able to afford them.
In 1999 Keating took home three computers her job was getting rid of, cleaned them up and got them running. As if by design, three little boys came along and she offered the computers to them. That was on a Thursday.
“The following Monday there were three men standing in my driveway when I got home from work,” Keating said. “They were the fathers of those three little boys. One read from a yellow piece of paper. He said, ‘Me never thinks computer children’. He said thank you, and every hair on the back of my neck stood up.”
That feeling was what guided Keating down the path of helping parents give their kids a tool that can be difficult to come by without the financial means. She started small, working off her kitchen counter, but soon moved the computers into her garage. That space became too small, and once again, fate stepped in.
Keating explained how they came upon the building they work out of now. “I knew a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who knew David’s dad’s girlfriend,” she said. David Gamel owns the building Tech For All started working out of in 2004. Gamel and his father, Tom Gamel, had heard about what Keating was doing and lent their support.
“Him and his dad let me in here with a key after a 20 minute conversation,” Keating said. “The lights and heat are all handled.”
Before they settled into that building, finding the computers and handing them out was much more laborious. “I had a 1968 Ford pickup truck,” Keating explained. “I would drive my truck to the work I was doing in town, and if I saw computers in a hallway I would ask what they were doing with them.” Keating collected computers and anything that plugged into them.
Linda Metcalf has been volunteering at Tech for All since 2001. Metcalf worked at the Denver Public Library for 32 years. She had promised Keating that when she retired she would join the Tech For All team.
Keating and Metcalf would fill that old pickup truck with computer monitors, keyboards and mice, and take them over to Goddard Middle School, in Littleton where they first started giving them away.
“We set it up in the cafeteria when the kids got out of school. Then, when the parents would come we’d do the handout right at the school. But we can’t do that a lot. We can’t lift that stuff anymore,” Metcalf said.
Comcast technician Pete Kuykendall had decided that he had come to a turning point in his life where he wanted to find a way to use his unique computer skills to help others.
“In 1994 I had this epiphany; what really made me happy was helping other people have great lives,” Kuykendall said. In the ‘90s he began the process of collecting old laptops and fixing them so that soldiers overseas could Skype with their loved ones. However, Kuykendall felt like he wasn’t reaching enough people. While helping out another organization in 2010, he ended up at a computer parts store explaining his dilemma to the store’s clerk. The clerk told him that he should talk to a woman named Rose.
Kuykendall explained what happened next. “I said ‘who’s Rose’, and he said, ‘She’s standing right next to you.’ She was at the counter. This was one of these divine interventions! I’m not even a believer! But there she was. She was in desperate need of a network engineer,” Kuykendall said. He had finally found a place where his computer savvy could be useful to thousands of people.
With Kuykendall’s help, they switched over to the Linux operating system. What used to take one person five hours now took only five minutes. “So we now can operate with way fewer people in way smaller a space,” Kuykendall said. “We’re doing way over 1,000 a year now, and before we were doing a couple a hundred a year with 60 volunteers. Now we got about eight of us doing it.”
The team is currently working with Valverde Elementary School, making sure all their students has a notebook computer of their own. “We’re working through the whole school,” Metcalf said, “One grade at a time.”
The kids have been showing their appreciation ever since. Keating displayed a binder filled with homemade pictures and thank you letter from all the kids. “They’re just precious,” Keating said. “We had to keep them all.”
Keating is very satisfied with how far Tech For All has come, and hopes to reach many more people.
“Everything about Tech is convoluted,” Keating said. “It’s come out of the sky and it’s the powers of the universe forcing everybody into one place.”