National award for Chatham-Kent and Habitat for Humanity

Representatives of the local Habitat for Humanity group and the municipality of Chatham-Kent celebrated a national award received as the result of a joint project to reuse computers. Left to right area Jordan Labonte (HFHC-K IT committee volunteer), Richard Drouillard (HFHC-K IT Chair and Board President), Nancy McDowell (HFHC-K Executive Director), Polly Smith, Program Manager of Employment and Social Services for the municipality Dave Demers Learning Coordinator with CKESS and Anne Taylor (HFHC-K Volunteer Coordinator). Photo: Municipality of Chatham-Kent.

A collaboration between the municipality of Chatham-Kent and the local Habitat for Humanity group has earned a national award.

Habitat for Humanity Chatham-Kent recently received its parent organization’s national Sustainable Funding Award for its efforts in providing used computers to low-income families.

During the last year, the organization has distributed 80 computers and has signed an agreement to continue the service for the next two years.

Nancy McDowell, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, said the computers can be a life changing event for those who receive them.

“Our staff has been hugged and thanked by people receiving the computers,” she said. “A lack of income can be isolating. Often job applications have to be filled in online, or students’ homework requires online work. For a family that can’t afford a computer, this presents real challenges.”

Due to the constant use of municipal computers, it was found that those over four-years-old required costly maintenance so a lifecycle replacement program was instituted through the Information Technology Services Department.

Computers due to be replaced are cleared of data and shipped to Habitat where volunteers install basic operating systems and prepare them for use. While not suitable for commercial use, the units are fine for personal use.

The program is overseen by the municipality’s CKESS (Chatham-Kent Employment and Social Services) department.

Polly Smith program manager of employment and social services for the municipality, said Habitat for Humanity is an excellent partner for the initiative since it has the ability to determine eligibility of recipients.

She noted that although the partnership with Habitat is only a year old, the municipality has been working with various organizations since 2003.

“We have distributed about 1,000 computers over the years,” she said.

Smith pointed out that the United Nations declared access to the internet a human right in a 2011 report.

“Access to the internet allows for the free flow of information, low cost or free education opportunities, and online job searching. Increasingly, for people with transportation barriers (often of lower incomes), it also allows them to access many services they need online. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada cites computer use as one of the nine “Essential Skills” for workers today,” she said.

Internet use numbers from Statistics Canada shows a digital divide between higher income and lower income households. Only 62% of Canadian households with an income under $30,000 use the Internet.

“Having a computer has allowed low income families use for school work, job searching, social inclusion activities and to find needed information on services or apply for things online alleviating transportation barriers,” she said. “Reusing the computers means less waste going into landfills, so it’s a win for everyone.”

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