BUSHWICK — Keily Lopez has a tough time getting on the internet, but it’s not because she isn’t tech-savvy. For her, it’s a lack of access.
“I have to use my dad’s phone for my homework or sometimes I have to ask my brother if I can use his computer,” she explained.
Keily, a 10-year-old fifth-grader at St. Brigid-St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy in Bushwick, has never had a computer to call her own. Until now.
Thanks to a donation from a non-profit organization called TechFIN (short for Technology for Families in Need), Keily and 24 of her fellow students received refurbished computers at a distribution conducted in the academy’s auditorium on June 2.
A total of 50 computers were donated — 25 went to the academy, 15 to public school students in the religious education program at St. Brigid Church, and another 10 for children from Mary of Nazareth Parish in Fort Greene. A handful of children who belong to Mary of Nazareth attend St. Brigid-St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy, said Father Henry Torres, the parish administrator.
The total cost of the donation was $8,000, according to TechFIN volunteer John Valdivia. The organization takes outdated computers from corporations that are upgrading their technology, re-programs the computers and donates them to underprivileged communities.
“This donation is very meaningful to us,” said Father Carlos Velásquez, pastor of St. Brigid Church. He pointed out that many of the academy’s students don’t have computers and have to rely on public libraries to find internet access.
St. Brigid Church paid $500 to purchase Wi-Fi adapters for the desktop computers so the children can have easier access to the internet.
Marcia Soria, the principal of St. Brigid-St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy, said many families in the school community lack up-to-date technology. Some parents are still using old-fashioned dial-up services to access the internet. According to New York University’s Furman Center, the poverty rate in Bushwick in 2019 was 20.7%, higher than the citywide average of 16.9%.
The students didn’t fall behind in their studies during the pandemic lockdown, Soria said, because DeSales Media Group, the technology arm of the Diocese of Brooklyn and the ministry that produces The Tablet, had donated iPads to the academy.
The donation of computers from TechFIN was most welcome, she said.
“The families were incredibly happy when they heard the news that they were going to receive these computers,” she added.
The student recipients were selected based on teacher recommendations, Soria explained.
St. Brigid-St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Academy came to TechFIN’s attention thanks to an organization called Vecinos Collective (“vecinos” is Spanish for neighbors), which heard about the tech group, knew that kids at the academy could use computers, and brought the two together.
“Our mission is just to help our community and build up communities,” said Martha Velásquez, Father Velásquez’s sister and one of the founders of the Vecinos Collective.
Before distributing the boxes containing the computers, Father Velásquez had words of advice for the children — be generous to others after someone has been generous to you.
“Many times we’re the recipients of someone’s love and generosity. And then later on we don’t even realize the health impacts and how that helped us to grow. Think about how you can do things for other people,” he said.
Keily was super excited to get her computer.
“I’m going to do my homework. But I’ll probably watch some videos and play some games on it,” she said. “I’m really excited because now I have more stuff to do at home and not just stay there and just do nothing. That gets boring sometimes.”
Fifth-grader Chloe Gonzalez, 11, couldn’t wait to get her hands on a computer.
“I’ve had to use my mom’s computer,” she said. But she doesn’t think she’ll become unduly influenced by technology: “I’m more of an outside person than an inside person.”