Volunteers help students advance with donated computers

Ashley Hopper fills out paperwork to receive a free computer for her middle school son Chandler, who couldn't borrow one from school because they all had been distributed. Her daughter Adleigh Hopper, 4, watches.

"Freebie" Bassett lives up to his nickname, founding Computers Advancing Education (CAE) that has provided 31,000 free refurbished computers to schools, students, teachers and nonprofit organizations.

"I want everyone to have the technology they need to compete in this world, especially now with COVID, and classes online," Fremont Bassett said. 

A pilot and aircraft mechanic, he knew little about computers a decade ago. 

"A man I knew worked in Cairo and his son couldn’t stay in contact with him. Me and my sons John and Greg refurbished a computer and gave it to him for Christmas. I realized there are other households without a computer and that’s how it started."

His work is a blessing for Ashley Hopper of Titusville and her three children. 

"Now, with my kids doing their schoolwork from home because of the virus, you don’t know what this means," she said. 

Bassett said requests for computers expanded exponentially. Since March, more than 600 computers have been distributed, thanks to 35 trained volunteers who show up Tuesdays to accept donated computers, strip them of all data, test and upgrade them with Windows 10, Office Suite and anti-virus software and recirculate them. Qualifying families can receive a reduced rate on internet service through Spectrum, AT&T, Comcast and Connect2complete.

Wajita Khan, the executive director of Viera Children’s Academy, said receiving computers a few years ago "really helped our children receive hands-on new technology. It’s important that children start at an early age."

Metal components that can’t be used are recycled to earn $2,800 a year to buy software and office equipment. Bobbi Lasher of Cocoa, nicknamed the demolition diva, attended a free computer class offered by CAE and volunteered. "I’m good at breaking things," she quipped.

Richard Clarke of Titusville wants a career in computers. He and his sister volunteered after hearing about CAE from an Eastern Florida State College professor. 

"I’m learning a lot from the older gentlemen. They have a wealth of information." 

Bassett said volunteers range from high school and college students to an 87 year old.

Several Brevard County businesses have donated outdated computer parts and components. Collins Aerospace gave 75,000 pounds of equipment in the past 18 months alone. When Harris and LP merged recently, monitors were donated. Measurement Incorporated provided 300 Lenovo Thinkpads. Brevard Schools provides space. Corporate, private and United Way funds supplement.

To request a personal or laptop computer, donate cash or a used computer (even a broken one) or volunteer, go to ComputersAdvancingEducation.org or call 321-626-9754.