With most students shifting to online learning and workers telecommuting under Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s shelter-in-place order, the needs of Allegheny County families who already faced technology challenges are even greater.
Community development organization Neighborhood Allies partnered with computer-refurbishing company Computer Reach to address that need. Together, the two organizations were able to source 1,000 refurbished laptops—but all of them needed chargers. The only supplier available to Computer Reach was based in China, and their lead time was six weeks.
After learning of Neighborhood Allies’ need, Lina Dostilio, associate vice chancellor of community engagement in Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Relations, contacted Cindy Wertz, chief of staff for Pitt Information Technology, to help source the chargers locally and assist in offsetting their cost.
“During this crisis, the digital divide has become a massive barrier to online education, telehealth and seeking supportive services,” said Dostilio.
Earlier this month, Neighborhood Allies announced a new partnership with the Pittsburgh Technology Council and Lawrenceville-based self-driving car company Aurora Innovation.
“One of the things we realized pretty early on is when we looked at telecommuting and tele-education, there were many people who would be left behind,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto in a conference call announcing the partnership Beyond the Laptops. “Now it’s time to look at our young Pittsburghers and try to find a way to get them the same opportunities that all kids have.”
The effort aims to purchase and refurbish more than 1,000 laptops for those who need them, and the University’s support has been instrumental in more than just the procurement of the laptops.
“We recognized that hardware is only part of the problem. Besides helping with materials, costs and prioritizing laptop requests in Homewood, Hill District, Hazelwood and Oakland, we were also able to have University staff and students working remotely to start up a ‘Virtual IT Help Desk’ and funnel other volunteers to Computer Reach to help expedite the production timeline,” Dostilio said.
“The University of Pittsburgh is proud to contribute to strengthening the community around us,” said Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer Mark D. Henderson. “I’m very pleased that in this time of unprecedented reliance on technology, our help desk is able to be a resource anytime, day or night. We’re also thankful that, through our strategic vendor program, we were able to overcome supply chain challenges and contribute to the ‘Beyond the Laptops’ program. It’s a great feeling for all involved to have such a meaningful and immediate impact.”