Waylon Priday races from one room swamped with electronics to another, examining different laptops and commenting on what needs to be repaired in a matter-of-fact tone. Some models turn on just fine, and some he needs to take apart and fix.
Waylon is the youngest volunteer for Green Star of Interior Alaska: At just 12 years old, he repairs donated laptops that will be given away to people in need. In the past six months, around 250 people below poverty level received a free laptop to help them connect with loved ones and to work and study remotely.
Green Star, a nonprofit that promotes reducing waste and increasing recycling, has been repairing used laptops to help close the technological gap, which is the divide between people who have access to technology on a daily basis and those who do not.
The nonprofit has been donating repaired laptops to people who applied for their program directly or those whom they found through organizations working with disadvantaged communities. Some of such Green Star’s partners are Fairbanks Rescue Mission, Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living and the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition, which helps recently homeless or jobless clients.
“If you are low income and can’t afford a laptop, you have a significant disadvantage,” said Orren Wilkinson, the founder of Green Star’s COVID-19 Laptop Project.
For example, without a laptop in the office, people coming to shelters wouldn’t be able to browse a library, apply for jobs and succeed in those jobs, said Krystel Marino, development director for the Rescue Mission, one of the organizations Green Star helped.
Around the nation, the pandemic only strengthened people’s reliance on technology and worsened the limitations for those who can’t afford it, according to the Pew Research Center.
In Fairbanks, 11.5% of the population lives below the poverty level, which means that from 31,677 people living in the city, about 3,600 people have less money than they need to meet their basic needs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The official poverty threshold for a family of two is $17,240 a year.
From all the disadvantaged groups Green Star works with, Wilkinson said that most of the repaired laptops go to families with children who now study online. This allows Green Star to help the youngest generation affected by the technological gap, he said.
Nationally, about one-third of lower-income parents with homebound school children say it is likely their children will not be able complete their schoolwork because they do not have access to a computer at home, according to Pew.
Wilkinson said the effect of the technological gap on children goes beyond online schooling during the pandemic.
“Children who are not familiar with computers now might be unable to find work later,” he said. “The goal is to make sure that every child has a laptop.”
To get closer to this goal, Green Star has been collecting used laptops, repairing them as needed, erasing data from previous owners and installing new software. The work is done almost solely by volunteers, most of whom are either retired or still in school.
“I’m hoping to introduce more kids at a younger age to working with computers,” Wilkinson said. “In the future they might use those skills.”
Waylon started to repair and build electronics at Green Star at 11, and when Wilkinson started the laptop program, he said he called Waylon’s mother to let her son volunteer.
“I told her I need Waylon,” Wilkinson said. “I can’t do this project without him. He is so good at working with Macs. Without him, I wouldn’t get much done. When I need to step outside or do other aspects of my work, Waylon can keep things going.”
Waylon, Green Star’s 12-year-old volunteer, says he loves volunteering for Green Star because he can be “fixing things — tablets, computers, whatever it might be. And finding cool stuff.”
Green Star receives all kinds of electronics, from a frog-shaped vacuum cleaner to retro speakers. And of course, there are laptops of all kinds and ages.
“Those over there are significantly older than I am,” said another Green Star volunteer, DanieI Ragsdale, 13, pointing to an older Walkman model. DanieI, a student at Randy Smith Middle School, has been volunteering for about a year and a half and says he loves “building stuff.”
“It’s always interesting,” he said. “There is always something else to it.”
“They are both insanely smart, Wilkinson said about Daniel and Waylon. “I’m very proud of them. Our hope is not only to help the community in need but also to help these kids in the future.”
To apply for receiving a laptop, people can fill out the form at iagreenstar.org or submit a request by calling at 907- 452-4152. To donate a laptop or materials such as chargers and SD cards, people can drop them off in Green Star’s Laptop Donation Dropbox at 1101 Well St.
Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587.