COVID-19: Comp-U-Dopt Supplies Families with Tech for Home Education During Extreme Demand

Updated: Apr 17


Colin Dempsey from Comp-U-Dopt shares how the need for computers in under-resourced families has spiked in the last month due to at-home education. He shares insight on how children's learning has shifted during COVID-19 and what you can do to help.

"I do think in kind of this new paradigm of learning that we're all, we're all figuring out together that the Fall is going to look quite different and. . . I think we'll definitely see districts investing in technology for their students as well as for families"


Mentioned Resources:

Comp-U-Dopt

Zoom Conference Calls

Houston Responds COVID-19 Resources


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello. This is Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds. And today I'm joined by Colin Dempsey with Comp-U-Dopt. And they are nonprofit that got started here in Houston that has an amazing opportunity and have been doing amazing work in the areas of getting under-resourced kids access to the internet through computers, the ability to do schoolwork through computers and, a recycle program. And so I'm really excited to hear about their programs. Thank you for joining us today.


Colin Dempsey:

Sorry. All right. Yeah. Thanks Tommy. Thanks for having us.


Tommy Rosson:

Tell me a little bit about Comp-U-Dopt and the background of how it got started.


Colin Dempsey:

Yeah. So Comp-U-Dopt is a local Houston nonprofit. We were founded here in 2007. Our mission is to provide technology access to education to underserved youth in the area. And that mission is kind of on hyperdrive right now, knowing all the need that exists out there in the community for students to get their hands on technology. During normal times we are giving out computers to students who don't have one at home after we refurbish the computers from corporate donations. Typically we give out about 2000 and 3000 computers a year, and have given out over 16,000 computers since 2007. Now though, we're averaging about a thousand computers a month to try and pick up the speed, pick up the pace, and get out as many computers as possible, as fast as possible to students who need them.


Tommy Rosson:

That's fascinating. I think you said, right now you have over 25,000 students on your wait list.


Colin Dempsey:

Yes. Yeah. They might a thousand unique families, so that's four or five students in each of those families who are needing a computer, we have parents emailing and calling us every day saying, I have just lost my job or I was furloughed or, I'm afraid that my student is falling behind and I really need this computer or this tool to make sure that they don't fall behind anymore. You know, everyone is kind of cooped up right now and stay in quarantine and staying home and without this tool, a lot of families aren't getting the education that they need.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. Tell me a little bit about the work you've done in Galveston and how that compares to the work you've done in Houston.


Colin Dempsey:

Yeah, so we were fortunate to be funded by the Moody Foundation on Galveston Island along with the country to provide computers to Galveston Island over the past five years. And in doing so, we have solved the digital divide on the Island. So whereas in Harris County had EverQuest for 25,000 computers, I've only had a request for about 150 computers on Galveston Island. And that's because families there know that they come to Comp-U-Dot to get a machine that they need. So we have a tech pantry there that meets the need of those couple hundred computers a year for families who are new to the Island or you know, technology, just like ours, breaks. We need to get it fixed or replaced. But I think that that speaks to the solvability of this problem that if we do attack it in times when we aren't all at home or in an emergency that we consult with felt like an invisible problem to a lot of people, is now coming to the forefront as an essential need.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. Man. I know there's so many people at home families and parents at home now trying to help their kids be homeschooled with the public schools. And they're realizing you can't do school on a phone. You really need a little bit more than that. And especially if you don't have access to that, it's really, I mean, not only are many of these families under resource, but especially in this situation now all of a sudden the kid's education is going to be dramatically held back.


Colin Dempsey:

Right? Yeah. And it's something that we, our normal mission is technology access and education because we know it's about more than just a computer. I don't know how many parents have had to become the IT department of their household over the past couple of weeks to fix Zoom calls or figure out passwords or figure out how to connect the wifi or the Bluetooth or the microphone. And that's why we run our education programs, which are enrichment programs for after school or elementary, middle and high school students. To really get them to think that, you know, a computer is a tool. It matters what you do with it in order to be successful. And knowing that all of our jobs are going to involve technology in the future, not just in times when we're stuck at home and needing to use Zoom. But that, you know, if you are working on an Excel sheet or coding or whatever falls in between, you're going to need a computer, you're going to need the literacy skills to use it.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. That's great. So in this season that we're in, what are the biggest needs of Comp-U-Dopt for the next month?


Colin Dempsey:

Yeah, so our biggest need right now is incoming gifting kind or hardware donations from large companies. For instance, last week we had Motiva Enterprises donate 500 of their used equipment that is now been turned around and given out to kids. To refurbish that equipment, we need dollars, replacing keyboards and screens and power chargers, cost money. And so we're looking for donations to help fund that work. In all it costs us about $125 to $150 to turn around a computer for a student, whether it be a with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and all the cords included or laptop, computer with this power cord. So getting those out to kids, does cost money. And, we're trying to raise more funds in order to get more computers out. So right now we've done the volume that we typically do in a year and about a month and a half. And so we're getting those funds to keep that momentum going.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. That's great. And the type of computers that you get in there, five to six years old, usually take care of the needs


Colin Dempsey:

They do. Yeah. Companies are getting rid of these computers because they can't find the latest operating system, which is very, it takes a lot of space on your hard drive. We use a Linux operating system, which is free wear, so it's free for students. Microsoft license cost us about $200 a computer, so we get rid of that. They can run on these older machines for a long time. Most of our kids report back to their computer less than five or six years. And that's already a five or six year old computer. So there are tough machine that run with a light operating system. It has everything a student would need to make sure they're learning.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. Now, one of the things that most churches would want to do is to try to hold a drive to get many of these machines in and those kinds of things. But in the future that will be helpful, but in the current situation it's not, talk a little bit about that.


Colin Dempsey:

Yeah, so currently we're in a barebone staff of three people allowed in our 20,000 square foot warehouse. We typically have a staff of 30 plus and to process individual donations, even if they're correlated, is kind of difficult right now just because we're trying to maintain social distancing. We are labeled an essential business during this crisis, but we still need to make sure everyone's safe. So we're going to hold off on individual donations from folks until later, but we are taking those larger donations of 25 or more computers that are the same, right? So all of the same kind from one company, of monitors, desktops, laptops, or their chargers, anything five years old or less is going to be helpful for us to turn around quickly and get it out.


Tommy Rosson:

And so with that, like you said earlier, the biggest need is money to be able to make that turnaround as fast as possible. Will you be able to keep this thousand dollar, I mean, thousand units a month for awhile?


Colin Dempsey:

I hope so. Yeah. That's the goal. I'm a former teacher myself. I taught bilingual fourth grade in North Houston and I know what it means for a student to have a computer at home and to be connected to their learning. And that's what wakes up me and all of my staff every day is to make sure that families are getting the tool that they need because they're desperate right now. And really our only limits are the funds and the kind of Gusto to go out and grab those computer and get them in here and get a refurbed for families. We have some volunteer opportunities for those who are extremely technically gifted to come help us refurbish computers, but in general, we also in the future will need help sorting through all of these donations and working at our warehouse to help us do that. We're located on the North side and the greater Heights area, across from Teotihuacan so you can come volunteer with us, and then maybe go get some good Mexican food.


Tommy Rosson:

Absolutely. That's great. So, as this moves forward, as we look to next fall, hopefully social, we'll go from stay at home to just social distancing and we can do more things. What does it look like for next fall.


Colin Dempsey:

So for next fall, we're talking with our partners at the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club to really think about, you know, parents and everyone are going to have to go back to work. And our students more than ever are gonna need to be supported by quality out of school time programming. A lot of our parents struggled to find cheap childcare. And our program is always free to students and we work with these partners to bring, to get as many students in our programs as possible. So in the fall we're looking to hire up quickly, hopefully our funds will rehire back our training staff, and put them to work with our students. I think we are also looking potentially at summer programming to go all day long because we know that families need to prevent what's now only two months of summer slide, is possibly an entire semester and a summer. And so trying to catch students up for the learning that they've lost and making sure that they're on a level playing field but their peers.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. And then on top of that, we do know that our educational system will be different. You know, when you look at this, so the need for the need for a technology for many of our students will be much greater.


Colin Dempsey:

Yeah. I think you'll see an emphasis from school districts on a one to one learning or flipping the classroom. That's another term that you might hear where students are doing the learning at home and then coming to the classroom to work on problems. It's been a model that's been bubbling up, but I do think in kind of this new paradigm of learning that we're all, we're all figuring out together that the fall is going to look quite different and we might see, I think we'll definitely see districts investing in technology for their students as well as for families. I think another thing that we're realizing is that, lots of adults never got this education on how to use a device and how to make it work for them. And so they're learning right alongside with their children. So I feel like we're going to see a lot more programs pop up that are going to help support them.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. That's great. And your ability to ramp up is really been amazing.


Colin Dempsey:

Thanks. Yeah, we owe it to our donors. We also learned a lot of lessons in Harvey. So during Harvey we set up three computer labs of about 120 computers each every day at NRG stadium and downtown at the convention center. And I think what we learned there was to bend but not break in terms of serving the community. We kind of broke ourselves after Harvey and gave it a little too much at once. So we paced ourselves this time, which I think has set us up to really serve as many people as possible, um, while still making sure the oxygen mask is on ourselves and we're taking care of ourselves here and make sure everyone's safe. So yeah, we learned lessons there that I think are really, really helping us out now


Tommy Rosson:

How can people get in touch with you in regards to if they wanted to make a large financial donation? If they want to make a small financial donation? Maybe if they have some technical abilities that might be helpful. Is their social media or how do they, how do you encourage people to connect with you?


Colin Dempsey:

The best way to reach out for gifts is donate at CompUDopt.org And if you reach out there, it goes to my cell phone. So I will reach back out to you, to make sure that we can get that done. You can also visit our website at www.compudopt.org and on there there's a donate button. There's also information about our programs and information about how to wipe our computers if you're concerned about security or other types of hardware that we accept. And I also encourage people to go and just explore our website, check out our YouTube videos, see what we do, all the social media channels.


Tommy Rosson:

That's great. That's great. Well thank you so much for everything you do and for leaning into this, we're, we're having so many conversations with nonprofits out there in the community about in this season. Many of them are going to have to double, triple, quadruple. Y'all have grown 10 fold. So that's very impressive and, and keep it up.


Colin Dempsey:

Thank you Tommy. And I appreciate you highlighting our work and for everyone watching it and listening for your contributions. Nonprofits don't exist without people that support them. And right now they need you more than ever. So thank you for putting a spotlight on this for us.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. And so if your company has software, I'm sorry, has hardware that it needs to get rid of, if it's time to figure out what they're going to do with all that stuff, this is a great organization that can take it also. This is a great organization and that when you think about $125 will solve this technology issue for families and they have 125,000 people in greater Harris County that need computers right now. So think about a donation as well. Thank you very much for joining us.


Colin Dempsey:

Thanks Tommy so much


Tommy Rosson:

Church leaders. If you'd like more videos like this or more resources for how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis that's going on, you can go to Houstonresponds.org/covid-19. Thank you for joining us today.


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