volume 66 - issue 9 - September 2016
Old technology finds new life
"Concern for community" is one of the seven guiding principles of cooperative businesses. SMECO embraces this principle, and its employees invest their time and resources into supporting local events, charities, schools, and other endeavors that promote sustainable development in the communities we serve.
One such endeavor has been supplying computer technology to local schools and non-profit organizations.
In the 20th century, computers were starting to become more commonplace in businesses and on college campuses. It took much longer for computers to reach primary schools because of limited budgets. Students badly needed access to computers, and military bases such as Naval Air Station Patuxent River needed to dispose of excess equipment. Seeing a need and an opportunity, the Department of Defense authorized military installations to donate their old computer gear to schools.
Leaders from local businesses and the Naval Air Station Patuxent River formed the Southern Maryland Applied Research and Technology Consortium (SMARTCO) in 1992. SMARTCO was the first group in the nation to collect and refurbish donations of computers and related equipment for schools.
In 1994, the Patuxent River Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and SMARTCO worked together to supply hundreds of pieces of donated computer equipment to local classrooms.
SMARTCO’s mission has expanded over the years to help non-profit groups. More than 250 organizations that have received computers from SMECO and other donors use them to operate more efficiently and to offer training for their clients. Most of the recipients are in Southern Maryland, but some are as far away as the Philippines. The refurbished computers help some clients learn basic computer skills while others pursue GEDs or earn certifications in computer repair.
SMECO is a longtime supporter of education in Southern Maryland, and the cooperative has been a leader in SMARTCO since the consortium’s beginnings. When the group needed space to store the first collection of donated computers, one of SMECO’s then-Board Chairman at the time, Lewie Aldridge, donated storage space in a house that he owned in Hughesville. In addition to donating outdated hardware and software, cooperative IT employees also help other volunteers catalog, disassemble, and test the technology. The refurbished technology includes printers, monitors, and fax machines as well as desktop computers and laptops.
While the Navy facilities in Southern Maryland are SMARTCO’s main source of used technology, SMECO continues to be a major donor. From September 2015 through May 2016, the cooperative donated almost 900 pounds of old equipment. The most recent donation in May included nine laptops, 10 desktops, 13 servers, and three printers.
Although the computer equipment is usually out of date, it does just fine in bridging the digital divide for students and adults who need the technology. SMECO not only helps the community through its donations, it also benefits the environment by keeping our old technology out of the landfill.
Donating outdated technology and refurbishing it for a new life to help someone in need provides much needed resources to the community. If you are interested in dropping off your computer equipment to be refurbished and rehomed, call 301-737-0394 for more information.