Minneapolis is providing free hardware repair and online security lessons in an effort to boost Internet accessibility and give IT students hands-on experience.
Friday marked the year’s first workshop in a city-sponsored series of Fix-It Tech clinics that offer free cybersafety tips and maintenance help for low-income residents. The workshop at the Takoda Institute of Higher Education in south Minneapolis gave students an opportunity to practice their technology and customer skills, while providing services for residents who can’t afford to get their broken or virus-infected devices fixed.
The clinic’s nearly two dozen volunteers, most of whom were Takoda Institute students and staff members, raced between clients throughout the afternoon, as more than 60 people crowded classrooms and waiting rooms seeking tech support with their keyboards, hard drives and other devices.
“This is our opportunity to help people with maintenance and get their machine back,” instructor Richard Balderrama said.
Viruses, or downloaded software that slow computer processes, were the most common issues. By providing basic education on how to avoid those software problems, Balderrama said, people can extend and restore their systems’ lives.
A citywide study released in April found lower-income residents and minorities had less access to the Internet, and residents in the Phillips and Near-North neighborhoods had less access to computers, cellphones or tablets.
“Residents across the board don’t feel very comfortable with protecting themselves online, installing software, troubleshooting their issues,” said city project coordinator Elise Ebhardt, leader of the Fix-It Tech workshops.
Former Takoda Institute student Darkto Graves, 27, volunteered at a help booth on Friday, offering maintenance repair. He said it was fulfilling to put his classroom skills to use and help people save money by avoiding a costly tech-support service.
“It gives me satisfaction knowing that I was able to help someone in need for a little problem like this,” he said while tinkering with a client’s keyboard.
Northeast Minneapolis resident David Suarez, 69, said he received a $150 estimate for upgrading his PC system and was told it would take seven days. But with the help of volunteer David Grim, 28, his computer was fixed in under an hour for free.
“It was close to passing away,” Suarez said. “But now, he’s bringing it to life.”
Ebhardt said she modeled the workshops after Hennepin County’s clinics that offer free help with repairing small appliance and other household items. After gaining partners, like Balderrama, she said the program expanded, alternating locations between south and north Minneapolis.
The University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center hosted the first Fix-It Tech event in November, which followed a successful pilot project at places like Little Earth of United Tribes, a south Minneapolis low-income housing complex.
The next Fix-It Tech event is Feb. 27 at Pillsbury United Communities’ Oak Park Center.
Jessica Lee is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.