MINNEAPOLIS — What is a computer to you?
"We used to talk about it like a tool in a tool box," Tamara Gillard said. She was quick to point out that now, with the pandemic, that thought paradigm has long shifted.
"It's absolutely critical because it's for learning, it's for families being able to communicate with their doctors and do virtual appointments," Gillard said. "Sometimes it's remote work or dealing with unemployment."
As the executive director of Minnesota Computers for Schools, Gillard has seen the need for laptops and computers first-hand. Her organization is working to answer the calls from families who are disconnected because of the "digital divide."
MN Computers for Schools has been doing such work since 1997. To them, "students" never referred to a certain age group. They weren't just looking out for school-aged kids. They were looking out for everyone, including folks like Ivery Baynham.
"The biggest setback was that even though my school, Minneapolis College, they were working on being able to help students like myself out, I couldn't get the information because I didn't have access to an email," Baynham said.
Baynham is a college student and a father to a four-year-old. He was left to navigate distance learning for both himself and his son without a device. He didn't even have WiFi. Things started to change though, when a professor at his college walked him through applying for a computer through Computers for Schools.
"[At first I said] that doesn't really sound right, they're giving away computers?" Baynham said. "We went through the process and it may have been a week--I got a computer in the mail and it was like wow, this is going to help out. Now I need to find out which one of my friends has WiFi and start going over there to do my work."
Prior to receiving a laptop, learning wasn't the only thing out of reach for the Baynham family.
"Social isolation is actually social isolation," Baynham said. "It isolates me from education, it isolates me from family and friends. It isolates me from being able to work, even filling out applications for unemployment. All those things get cut off and education becomes a privilege instead of something that I fought for. Something that I have a right to."
They've been calling this pandemic the 'great equalizer.' for Baynham, he said it is and it isn't at the same time. He added that he hopes we can come out on the other side of the pandemic knowing that we're all the same.
"There's an active sense of trying to figure out a solution, sense of community and togetherness," he said. "One had washes the other. I'm hoping that at the end of this epidemic, we can see that we are more connected because the one thing we have in common is, we all need social interaction."
If you need a computer yourself or know someone who does, you can get in touch with MN Computers For Schools by going to their website. Alternatively, you can email Tamara Gillard at firstname.lastname@example.org or call to ask about an application at 512-383-2400.
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.