Free Geek repairs discarded computer equipment (e-waste), and returns working computer systems to the community and the world. What we can't reuse is broken down, then recycled or disposed of in an environmentally-responsible manner.
We are often described as a "recycling" organization—and it's true, we do lots of recycling. But reuse is our first goal. Wherever possible, we find a new use for discarded gear, rather than condemning it to the hammer and chisel.
Free Geek collects e-waste, but we produce much more then just e-scrap (separated materials directed to recycling outfits.) We also produce fully functioning computers, refurbished and ready to use, which we give away or sell at very low prices. In the process, we train our volunteers in skills that serve them well in the job market and in day-to-day life.
Many of our volunteers arrive as computer novices. Others have extensive experience with computer hardware, programming, or networking. Still others bring valuable skills in areas like customer service, event planning, and recycling technology.
Free Geek is a place where volunteers can share skills with one another while working to benefit the community. Whatever their level of skill or experience, our volunteers have ample opportunity to branch out in new directions.
In our five year history, Free Geek has grown dramatically, processing more donations and giving away more computers each year. How is all this possible? Read on to learn about our "three frees": free hardware, free software, and free help. (It takes a little magic too—but you'll have to come see us first hand to become a true believer.)
Free Geek has received well over 30,000 donated computer systems (and like numbers of monitors and printers) over five years. All this stuff is called, most generally, computer hardware.
Though it has been cast off as broken or outdated junk, much of this hardware is easily repaired. Because of the huge number of systems, we have lots of spare parts. This makes it possible to replace broken parts, or upgrade components, without incurring any cost from buying more parts.
First, our volunteers sort donated hardware into basic categories, such as personal computers (aka PCs or systems), printers, keyboards. Computer systems are evaluated on a basic level: how fast are they, what kind of components do they have, do they even turn on? Next, we send the obvious junk to our Recycling department, where plastics, metals, and other recyclable materials are separated. The good stuff gets taken apart, and we test parts more thoroughly. Finally, we put the parts back together to make usable PCs.
The result: For every five computers "disposed of" at Free Geek, we have put one back into use. Our volunteers, thrift store customers, and other non-profit organizations reap the benefits of free or affordable technology every day.
See the "Free Geek's Recycling program" for more on our approach to responsible disposal of e-waste.
After we build computers out of used parts, we need to install software on them—an operating system, a word processor, a web browser, some games—to make them useful. After all, we can only call a computer "functional" if it's capable of performing useful tasks.
Free Geek requires software that will work on a wide variety of hardware, and that can be adjusted to use slower components to their maximum capability. It needs to be reliable and easily comprehended by beginners, but also robust and flexible for programmers and "power users." And of course, we're on a pretty tight budget, so we can't afford to pay for expensive programs to meet these needs.
Free software (see sidebar) comes to the rescue in all these ways. It's sophisticated, efficient, well-tested, easily modified, user friendly.
But there's more: Free Geek's spirit of collaboration and community-driven decision making is reflected in the world of free software. Geeks around the world, of all backgrounds and abilities, have collaborated for many years to produce free software like the Linux operating system, Mozilla's Firefox web browser, and GNU software.
You could even say the fact that we don't have to pay for this software is a side benefit…it's the philosophical connection, the freedom to share ideas and solve problems as a community, that's most important.
See the "Free Geek is a place for…well, GEEKS" page for more about the technical aspects of our programs.
free vs. proprietary software
The word "software" refers to the instructions that tell computer hardware how to do stuff. Operating systems (like Windows, Mac OS X, UNIX and GNU/Linux) are software, as are programs (like Word, Excel, Firefox, iTunes.)
Most of the software you're probably familiar with is proprietary - a company or person owns the rights to it, and you pay them for the right to use it. (Some proprietary software is available free of charge: e.g., iTunes, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Internet Explorer. But in order to use it, you must agree to conditions set by the copyright owner: Apple Computer, Adobe, Microsoft.)
There is another option—free software—which takes a different approach. Free software is available free of charge, but it's not just a money thing; it is distributed in a way that is designed to promote our freedom to share ideas. The source code—essentially the blueprints that make the software work—is "open," meaning it's available for anyone to study and modify. It's often said that the software is free "not just like free beer, but like free speech." Users of free software are encouraged to make changes, and share their changes with the entire world, so the software becomes more sophisticated and refined as time goes on.
Free software has existed for over 30 years. The Linux operating system was conceived in the early '90s, and computer enthusiasts soon combined it with existing programs from the GNU project. Computer "geeks" enjoyed developing and using the software, but for many years the products they produced—though worthy in many respects—lacked the polish of more consumer-oriented products from commercial software developers.
But free software blossomed with the emergence of the Internet, as programmers became able to share their modifications instantly around the globe. In the last few years, free software like Linux, the Firefox web browser, and the OpenOffice.org office programs have evolved into highly sophisticated and user-friendly programs.
At Free Geek, we offer our volunteers an introduction to the exciting and diverse world of free software, where only their imagination is the limit.
OK, so we've collected lots of hardware, and chosen the right software to make it useful. Now we need people to keep track of gizmos, test them, disassemble and reassemble, write software. Not to mention respond to emails, run phone cables through the walls, sweep the floors, research unusual equipment, move boxes and pallets of stuff around.
That's where our volunteers come in. And do they ever come in: every month, about XXX new volunteers sign up for their first shift, joining many other long-term volunteers.
Free Geek currently has about a dozen salaried employees, but their main task is to provide structure and organizational support for the volunteers. The XXX + hours logged each month by our dedicated volunteers are where the real work gets done.
So, where do all these volunteers come from? And why do they do it? Well, ask 10 volunteers, and you'll probably get 10 different answers. Because there is no end to the benefits available at Free Geek. Many initially come to earn a free PC, but the reasons they stay are even more compelling: free education, the chance to make a difference in our world, the chance to build a community. See the "Free Geek as a social resource" page for more detail.
(write concluding paragraph, tie it all together and introduce rest of Media Kit.)