The digital divide in Memphis is about to get a little smaller.
At least that's the hope of the founders of the Memphis Computer Cooperative, a nonprofit organization that will teach people to repair and rebuild computers, as well as offer classes on how to use them.
"The goal will be to have people learn to repair their own computers, or they may possibly walk away with a computer that's been donated," said William Justice, treasurer for the new cooperative.
"Simply put, it's like the [Revolutions] bike co-op, but for technology," added Bill McKessy, vice president of the co-op. Revolutions, a bicycle cooperative in the basement of Midtown's First Congregational Church, specializes in rehabilitating and recycling bicycles.
People can donate their old computers to the Memphis Computer Cooperative, and those will be given to area community centers or used for parts to help low-income residents build new machines.
"The more time goes by, the more computer hardware there will be lying around. It's perfectly good stuff, but folks just trash their old hardware," said computer co-op president James Traynor. "Since we'll be a nonprofit, they can donate their old computers to us and deduct it from their taxes."
The group still lacks a physical location, but Traynor said they are considering several locations and should nail one down within the next few weeks. Despite the lack of workshop space, there is currently an open call for free memberships until January.
"Members will see free or highly discounted curriculum fees and time in the laboratory," Traynor said. "Other technical benefits to being a member include computer cleaning and bug or malware hunting."
In addition to teaching people how to repair computers, the co-op will host classes on technology topics. Some classes will be free to the community and others will have a nominal fee.
"We'll be teaching anything from how to do a hardware upgrade and how to list things on eBay to learning how to set up a website or how to set up a server," Justice said.
Although the organization will be offering donated or rebuilt computers to the community, some low-income people may not be able to afford Internet services once they get the computer home.
"We'll have machines on hand that are usable and ready to donate to community centers as a starting point," Traynor said. "Part of our one-year plan is to distribute terminals to places that are sorely in need of computers. Hopefully, we can work with other nonprofits or with the city to get some Internet connections to the machines that we put out there in neighborhoods."
The co-op will hold its first membership drive and free computer workshop at Otherlands Coffee Bar on Sunday, December 12th, from noon to 5 p.m.
At 8 p.m. that same night, the co-op will hold a fund-raiser at Poplar Lounge featuring several local DJs and a live band. For information about becoming a member, go to ComputerCoop.org.