Wow, We Have Computers! … Now What?: Hard Drive Delivers Bytes to Kids

May 1, 2000

While a "build it and they will come" philosophy may not be right for most youth and technology programs, taking the technology to the kids might just work.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, Wash., is experimenting with a mobile technology center equipped with state-of-the-art computers, software and wireless Internet access. The Techmobile visits public housing complexes, community centers and Boys & Girls Clubs around Seattle.

"Some of these sites have nowhere to put computers and there are no libraries within walking distance," says Suellen Neumeister, program service director for the King County Boys & Girls Clubs. "We want to bridge some of the gap, at least at the initial learning stage.

"We can use the Techmobile to make sure kids know the basics, then they can go to a library or other center and be able to use the computers there on their own."

The Techmobile is one of the first technology projects that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been involved in. It cost a total of $148,654, with $82,814 going for the Winnebago, and $65,840 for the computer hardware, software and insurance.

The yearly operating budget comes to $42,000 for tech support and training, and to pay for the Internet services. Another $64,000 pays for a full-time director and two part-time program specialists.

"We've written a lot of checks, but so far we haven't been involved in many things like this," says Molly Signs, the Gates Foundation's grant program manager. The Foundation provided a $60,000 grant, while Microsoft Corp. itself kicked in $50,000.

The idea for the Techmobile came from librarians who wanted to put Internet access into the "bookmobiles" they take to various parts of the country, particularly rural areas. The foundation doesn't give grants for that, Signs says, but it was willing to sponsor a project to examine what the appropriate technology would be for a computer van.

The Techmobile was due to start rolling in January, but a fender-bender during a test run sent it back into the garage until February — which goes to show that youth and technology programs will still be subject to low-tech bugs.

Robinson, Brian. "Wow, We Have Computers! … Now What?: Hard Drive Delivers Bytes to Kids." Youth Today, May 2000, p. 53.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.