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Interview with Roy Crawford, Computers for Schools

Can you tell me a little bit about how and why your organization began

In 1992 a federal employee noticed surplus computer equipment being sent for sale/scrap (as there was no real e-waste recycling at the time). They started to ask if there was a way to get equipment and software licenses for their local schools. After a little paperwork and a meeting of provincial education reps and Pioneer volunteers Computers for Schools was born. The first delivery of computers from the Ottawa region actually came to NB in August of 1993 as the first stop in a delivery tour of Atlantic Canada. CFS was volunteer operated from 1993 to 1999 when the provinces were asked to incorporate as a non-profit.   

Our staff, during the pandemic

Has the organization grown significantly since it began?  Are there chapters across the province, across Canada, across the world?
There has been a lot of growth, over the last 20 years we have gone from producing 400-600 computers to an average of 6500 computers per year. As well as have a staff of 5 or 6 to our current number of 25.
There is a Computers for Schools Plus organization in all 13 provinces and territories. There is a wide range in how each operates but we all have the same goal of providing access to technology to those in need. The Canadian Computers for Schools Plus program has provided guidance and served as a model for several South American and African governments to set up similar programs.

What is your role in the organization and what is the structure? Staff? Board? Committees? Etc
I am the Executive Director and I serve on the board as the Secretary Treasurer. So I am a full-time employee of the non-profit and given my intimate knowledge of the financials I sit as Treasurer working with a Finance Committee of other board members.

What types of services does your organization offer and who are the people who use or take advantage of your services?
We provide computer hardware to schools, non-profits, low-income families, seniors, and students. We also provide e-waste handling for government, private enterprise and individuals. Reuse is always the best option before recycling so we will accept donations of equipment, triage it and reuse as much as we can. Anything that is not reusable will be properly recycled.

As a not-for-profit, what are your major fundraisers?
Most of our funding is from the federal government with the Youth Employment Strategy being the largest portion. This allows us to hire and prepare youth for success in the work world. We also rely on in-kind support from the provincial government and some private enterprises for workshop space and discounts on shipping and truck rentals.

What are the best ways to help your organization? (i.e. donations, volunteering, sharing on social media, etc.)
The most common way to support us is through donations of computer equipment or if a business is in a position to provide a discount on a product or service we need. As an organization that began with volunteers and still relies on the contributions of our volunteers the gift of time is a big help.

Can you tell me about one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had while working for this organization?
There are so many it’s hard to pick, we are helping people every day and that is what keeps me coming back. These rewards fall into 2 categories, clients and employees. Probably the most impactful has been working with Multicultural Associations when the Syrian refugees were coming to provide families with computers for their children to use for school, the families to learn English/French and to keep in touch with the loved ones they left behind. We are currently working on a similar project for Ukrainian refugees.
As for employees we are very open to hiring youth with mental or physical barriers to employment to work with them to develop the skills needed to thrive in the workplace. Seeing the change in their confidence and capabilities is a huge reward. 

What kind of challenges has your organization encountered and how did you adapt to overcome them?
Probably our biggest challenge over the years has been a steady supply of equipment. We have worked through these times with awareness campaigns and reaching out to regular donors. Also working with our clients to see if there may be alternative equipment that we do have that would fit their needs.

If I were thinking about volunteering for a not-for-profit organization, what would you say to sway my decision to join your organization? What kind of impact can volunteers have within your organization?
Volunteers can have a big impact on a non-profit organization. As I stated before our organization was started and run by volunteers for 6 years and a lot of those volunteers are still with us 29 years later. Even though we now have funding for employees the volume of equipment and requests can be overwhelming. Having volunteers for even a few hours a week can lighten the load and help us get equipment out the door that much faster. And as an organization that provides training for youth our managers are used to teaching so it is a good opportunity for a volunteer to gain technical knowledge and experience which is a good thing to have in our digital world.

What is something that you wish more people knew about your organization?
Just that we exist. And that we are more than just “Computers” for “Schools”. We serve pretty much any non-profit group or individual in need of tech access and we provide more than just computers. We handle tablets, smart phones, and just about any peripheral that you might plug into a computer.

Has your organization won any awards?
We have won some awards of recognition from the city of Fredericton with the Green Matters program and other environmental organizations.

What are you most proud of about your organization?
I guess that we work to make an impact on so many fronts. We have the social impact of technology access for people and employment training for youth, the economic impact of providing computers to schools and non-profits so their budgets can go further, and of course the environmental impact of reusing equipment and diverting it from landfills for 29 years.

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