After-school is computer triage time for Marian Central Catholic High School senior Ryan Burke and members of the computer club he created.
They spend their spare time inspecting, testing, stripping, repairing and updating unwanted computers and other devices. It’s a complicated process, but the club’s mission is simple – to help deliver educational technology to those in need around the world. The club, called MC³, is changing the world one PC at a time.
In his search to find volunteer opportunities, Burke came across World Computer Exchange, or WCE, a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago.
“When I saw the World Computer Exchange post about needing volunteers to prepare computers for underprivileged students, I knew I found the perfect match for me,” Burke said. “It was so exciting to find a way to provide service while doing something I enjoy.”
Yet, Burke, of Crystal Lake, realized there were logistical issues in participating in the program, since the organization’s warehouse is in Chicago.
Instead of giving up, he found a way to help from his Woodstock school.
Burke reached out to Chicago World Computer Exchange volunteer Jack O’Donnell to see if he could guide Burke as he started a computer club at Marian to assist with WCE’s mission.
“I have volunteered with WCE for 12 years, and Ryan is the first person who has come forward with such a bold plan to help our work,” O’Donnell said.
“He initiated a process in his school that formed a club with a moderator, which parallels the work we do in Chicago. Quite an accomplishment for someone who is a high school student.”
After receiving approval from the administration at Marian Central, Burke connected with Steve Liggett, the school’s Mathematics Department chair, to see if he would represent the club.
“He loved the idea,” said Burke, the club’s president. “Within a week, we had cleared out a room to start storing all our donated items.”
The first and most important aspect of the club’s outreach is requesting donations.
According to Burke, the team always is looking for “unwanted computers, monitors, keyboards, mice, routers, ethernet cords, webcams, projectors or cellphones.”
After receiving a commitment, Burke or a team member will collect the donations in their spare time and bring them back to school the next day. That’s when the triage process begins.
MC³ inspects and tests every computer, making sure they are updated to meet their “minimum specs,” Burke said. Broken computers are repaired or stripped for parts, and working computers are put into their tracking system.
After checking the specs, the technology is wiped clean of all data. The team installs operating systems, software and educational content. They clean up the outward appearance of the computer and do final testing before contacting WCE.
O’Donnell then coordinates pickup of the items from Marian Central, and the technology is brought to the WCE location in Chicago to be shipped worldwide. With partners in numerous countries, including government agencies, Rotary International, Peace Corps, USAID, the UN and other organizations.
“The partners find schools, provide funds for shipment and handle moving the computers from the port to the schools,” Burke said.
The learning is more than technical.
“The students are learning how to fix and refurbish computers, and understand how this impacts the lives of others,” Liggett said.
According to the World Computer Exchange website, the group has served more than 47 countries since its inception in 2000.
Burke and his classmates are helping to bring in more donations and help educate students in need, said those who’ve helped guide members along the way.
O’Donnell came to the first few meetings to develop a process and train the members of MC³.
“I believe clubs like this are important,” he said. “First, it’s an outlet for students who want hands-on experience learning technology. Second, it plants a seed in students regarding the value of volunteering and the need to support those who have needs in our world.”
Marian Central has been supportive in the creation of MC³, the first club of its kind at the school, Burke said.
“The administration likes the club so much that they are going to utilize it to handle the IT aspect for students once they go to one-to-one devices,” Burke said.
The community also has come together to further the mission. Burke posted on LinkedIn and Facebook about the club’s need for donated computers and technology. And family and friends helped share the news.
He now has an agreement to “receive 10 percent of all computer/technology donations from Crystal Lake School District 47, Allstate and IPC Eagle.” Burke also has received donations from family, friends and other businesses, such as Manhard Consulting, Ltd., Amron Stair Works, US Post Company, Nova Fire Protection and St. Margaret Mary Catholic School in Algonquin.
He’s certain the club will continue after he graduates this year and heads to college to pursue a degree in computer engineering.
“Luckily, my brother, Scott Burke, who is a freshman at Marian Central, has joined the club. I am sure he will maintain being involved in it during his high school years,” he said.
While the program is about giving, Burke and the MC³ team members have gotten a lot out of it, as well.
“I have learned how thankful I am to be living in a country where we have technology for education,” Burke said. “Our school has a very strong focus on service and leadership, and that is exactly what this club is all about.”
Businesses or individuals interested in donating to the club can contact Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org or Liggitt at email@example.com. MC³ is happy to coordinate pick-up of items, and a tax letter will be provided for all donations. The club prefers working items, and computers must have a DuoCore 2 or higher processor.