Enter on the side of the building. Look carefully, or else you’ll miss the sign. Walk down the stairs and turn right. Never mind the lack of windows, dim lighting, and pungent smell of coffee grinds. You have now entered FreeGeek, an underground lair of a nonprofit that harnesses the power of local volunteers to recycle, rebuild, and re-sell used computers. Welcome.
I recently volunteered at the Chicago chapter of FreeGeek, a national movement that began in Portland, Oregon, as a simple idea. The organization aims to recycle computer technology and provide low-and no-cost computing to the economically disadvantaged as well as not-for-profit social change organizations.
Not only that – FreeGeek’s most unique asset is that they are entirely run by volunteers (even some staff members are volunteers)! Each week, they provide comprehensive training to educate anyone and everyone about computers: how to strip them down, build them, recycle them, etc. You can show up with zero knowledge of computers and end the day knowing exactly what PCI, RAM, and BIOS stand for (and walk away with a slew of other tech acronyms under your belt to boot!).
What may come as a comfort to those of you with no formal background in science is the fact that some of the most devoted volunteers of FreeGeek Chicago come from professional paths such as museum curation, social sciences, and business administration. These are individuals who just happen to be knowledgeable and passionate about educating the public about computer technology.
There’s something in FreeGeek for everyone interested in contributing to the citizen science movement. Volunteers run the show, so anyone can join in. FreeGeek provides all the necessary training. The end product benefits the economically disadvantaged. If you ask me, it’s a win-win-win situation.
Whether you are passionate about technology, curious about computers, need to log community service hours, or all of the above, FreeGeek’s lair doors are open to anyone and everyone. Check to see if there is a chapter near you!
SciStarter also has plenty of other computer- and technology-related projects you can browse!