Diversity & Inclusion
Computer science / DEI / Digital access / Education / Funding

Computer Reach just launched an online store to make affordable computers more accessible

The Wilkinsburg-based nonprofit has been in operation for two decades, but pivoted to offer devices directly to consumers during the pandemic.

Computers. (Pexels/Polina Zimmerman; image has been cropped)
The need for computers and tech devices has never been greater. But prices have never been higher.

So, Wilkinsburg-based nonprofit Computer Reach launched its first online store for affordable computers and tech devices last month after two decades of operation.

Founded by Dave Sevick — who remains the organization’s executive director — in 2001 following his experience as a certified Apple computer consultant, Computer Reach specializes in refurbishing technology and related equipment to make it accessible to everyone at a much lower cost. Since then, the organization has added programming for computer literacy training and support for people of all ages. Computer Reach also runs a team of what it calls “digital navigators” — people who assist in providing internet connectivity, devices, digital skills development and ongoing technical support. (It’s a digital access term we’ve heard in other markets, too.)

“Our number one goal any time we get a donation of a device is to give that device a second life and get it back out to someone that could really use it,” Computer Reach Operations Manager Kyle Spangler said. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve distributed upwards of 6,000 devices, especially throughout 2020 and 2021, with COVID shining an extremely bright light on the actual need for technology. We’ve been advocating for a long time that technology is not a luxury within society anymore — it’s a necessity — and we truly believe that, so we do our best to to bridge that digital divide with a lot of our different programs.”

Kyle Spangler. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Though the organization is based in Pittsburgh, Computer Reach distributes refurbished devices to people all over the country and beyond, shipping a total of over 11,000 devices across 47 states and 41 countries, according to the organization’s website. Much of that work was done not through retail sales of computers from Computer Reach itself, but rather through program or partnership-based work with other organizations and institutions. But through a proof of concept project in 2018, Spangler said the organization saw that people were willing to come on their own and pick up devices at discounted costs. Those efforts turned into a curbside store advertised on the org’s website after the start of the pandemic, which eventually turned into a plan to launch an online store that could reach people at a national level.

“So now we have a full virtual store platform on our website, where we can post basically an unlimited amount of devices,” Spangler said, adding that customers can go through the full payment process online which has enabled Computer Reach to offer free shipping on all of its devices. Even better, he said, is that the online store eliminates the transportation barrier that the previous curbside pickup option required, enabling even more people to easily obtain affordable devices.

While the technology for sale on Computer Reach’s website isn’t free, the prices are far lower than current retail values for similar devices; a Dell Inspiron 11 laptop is listed for $190 while an Apple iMac 21.5″ from mid-2011 is posted for $275. There’s nothing on the site that’s for sale for more than $300, Spangler said. Open since late January, the organization made its first sale through the site last week, and has seen an increase in traffic of people putting items in their carts. Looking ahead to the rest of the year, Spangler said Computer Reach has hopes of launching an in-person retail store that can act as a support center and agency for local tech access.

The view of Computer Reach’s online store. (Screenshot)

Outside of the nonprofit’s efforts to launch the online store, Computer Reach also recently announced a new partnership with AT&T and Digitunity to provide over 2,000 refurbished computers and tech devices to students and families across Pittsburgh over the next two years. It’s part of an effort from AT&T to commit $2 billion to promoting digital equity across broadband affordability, accessibility and adoption. The partnership also comes at a time of unprecedented focus from both the state and federal government on investing in closing the digital divide.

“We are proud to be working with AT&T and Digitunity to help tackle the digital divide head-on in the neighborhoods around Pittsburgh and throughout Western Pennsylvania,” Sevick said in a statement. “Through our collaboration with AT&T we will provide much needed computers, hands-on digital literacy classes, and in-home digital navigator services to help make a measurable difference in the lives of people most in need in our community.”

Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Computer Reach

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