A Cranbrook resident with a chronic illness that has him housebound is exploring the world from the comfort of his home, via a newly refurbished computer from the Cranbrook Computer Donation Project.

He’s just one of many Basin residents benefitting from the community initiative, led by the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Kootenay Computer and the Cranbrook Salvation Army.

“The original goal of the program was to help 50 families per year gain access to technology that has become an essential part of living in our society,” explains Helen Barron, executive director for the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce. “We’re excited to say that the program has far exceeded this goal, providing 220 computers to those facing financial barriers in the East Kootenay between September 2018 and December 2019 – and there’s no end in sight!”

The Chamber collects old, unwanted, or damaged computer equipment and sends it to program partner Kootenay Computer to wipe personal data, make repairs, and refurbish the donations in preparation for their new owners. The Salvation Army, in the meantime, vets qualified recipients and arranges for pick up or delivery of the restored computers.

Nancy Lemire, the Salvation Army’s former coordinator of Community Ministries, says her client, who doesn’t leave his home because he suffers from COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), has “been thrown a lifeline.”

“We brought him the computer, and now he travels by accessing virtual tours of countries around the world,” she explains. “It has lit up his life. That computer came to him and he took complete advantage of it; he’s not shut in anymore and lives a more worldly life than many others. This one case alone makes it all worthwhile.”

The program has been made possible with a grant from the Trust, which helps cover the wages of an assistant computer technician as well as supports marketing and promotion of the program to those who need it most.

Lemire is also pleased to see single parents reaping the benefits of the program, citing the need for technology in the household to help with school or securing employment.

“Moms and dads are relieved to find a way to get computers for their children,” she explains. “I mean, today you need computers to do everything, whether that be finding a job, applying for social support, or looking up the bus schedule. And these are top-notch – I can’t say enough about Kootenay Computer. Any time there’s been any issue with a machine, they replace it in a heartbeat.”

Yet another benefit is the reduced environmental impact, as the program diverts computers that may have otherwise hit the landfill. It’s also providing meaningful employment for the assistant computer technician. The volunteer-turned-staffer came to the program through the Cranbrook Society for Community Living, which secures work placements for individuals with diverse abilities in jobs that will help transition them to full independence.

“Our assistant technician is working and thriving as a result of this program,” adds Barron. “The program has had an incredible impact. And in addition to being successful for the recipients, it’s been fantastic for Cranbrook and the area as a whole. Community partnerships with the Southeast Kootenay School District and Teck have been particularly great; they’ve donated a substantial number of computers.”

This program is not currently active but will be up and running again as soon as it is deemed safe by the Chamber and its partners. To learn more about the program, purchase a computer or make a donation, contact the Chamber at 250.426.5914 or info@cranbrookchamber.com.