It’s safe to say technology has been a lifeline for those living through the pandemic, whether they need a laptop to continue to work remotely, a computer to attend school virtually, or just use FaceTime to see loved ones from afar.
In Hudson County, some residents can’t afford this lifeline. The cost of computers and Wi-Fi can add up.
Seventeen-year-old Hoboken resident Dylan Zajac is trying to bridge the divide through his nonprofit Computers 4 People.
From old to new
The idea took hold last year after he and some of his friends spent time finding old electronics, fixing them, and reselling them.
“One of my friends had the idea to start going into schools to get more computers and refurbish them for homeless shelters, but we never followed through,” Zajac said. “So talking to my dad and my stepmother, who works for a nonprofit, we came up with the idea to create Computers 4 People.”
Starting in February of 2019 he bought domains for the website, computers4people.org, and began researching how to become a 501c3.
That July he officially got nonprofit status, created bylaws, and recruited board members. The following month Computers 4 People had its first successful tax-deductible donation.By November it had donated four refurbished desktop monitors, keyboards, and mice to the Hoboken Jubilee Center for students to do media work and edit movies.
So far, the nonprofit has donated more than 59 computers to other organizations or individuals in need, including Angela Cares, St. Matthew Trinity Lunchtime Ministry, and Boys Hope Girls Hope.
The entirely volunteer-based organization gathers donations from all over Hudson County and New York City and then goes to work refurbishing. Online applicants are selected, and the tech is delivered.
According to Zajac, 80 percent of the computers they receive are refurbished and provided to individuals and organizations in under-resourced communities. The remaining 20 percent are unsuited for distribution and are used for parts or sold with 100 percent of the proceeds going toward running the organization.
“A lot of families only have one desktop or access to one computer, but the kids need it for school, and the parents need it for work, so it’s hard for the whole family,” Zajac said.
Not only is the need greater than ever, especially for laptops, but donations are dwindling.
“We’ve probably gotten 30 to 40 applications from people who need a laptop,” said Zajac, noting that a lot of nonprofit organizations have also applied for computers. They have limited funding but need to supply computers to their employees as they continue to work remotely due to the virus.
While running a nonprofit and juggling homework, Zajac participates in a range of extracurricular activities such as varsity soccer, basketball, piano, the robotics team, and skiing.
Entering his senior year of high school in New York City, Zajac is still focused on growing his nonprofit.
“We’ve definitely grown in numbers and popularity as more people are becoming aware of what we do,” Zajac said. “Since I’m 17, most people see it as a school project at first, but then when the nonprofit actually goes and sets up computers, they are like, ‘Oh wow. This is real. He’s actually giving computers away’.”
The next step will be to acquire a physical office space for volunteers to use as they work to fix the computers instead of working out of his house or their own homes.
“I really enjoy growing a business, and the biggest driving factor for me is helping as many people as possible through technology,” Zajac said. “I enjoy fixing computers, but helping people along the way is really the biggest factor for me.”
To donate a desktop computer or greatly-needed laptop go to computers4people.org/donate.
To apply go to computers4people.org/apply.