“Not having computer skills is kind of like an artist not having hands to hold a brush,” said Ken VanSwearingen, president of the Tellico Village Computer Users Club. “I can’t see not helping this organization. They’re truly amazing individuals for what they’ve done for all these years, for so many children.”
Twelve years and roughly 1,200 members make up the TVCUC. Their biggest program to date is the Technology Access Program (TAP), “Which refurbishes the computers and then gets them out to children in need,” VanSwearingen explained. “You cannot survive anymore without being computer literate.”
TAP officially donated their 10,000th computer Friday afternoon to a college-bound senior at Loudon High School, a milestone that undoubtedly took a village.
Warren Sanders, the founder of TAP, said he one day realized the computers they were refurbishing to sell at garage sales – and then giving what couldn’t sell to commercial companies – could be put to better use.
“You can’t compete with people who have learned how to use computers because they’ve had them around and have been exposed to them,” VanSwearingen said. “And now you’re going to go into the job market and you may not have those skills. You may not get into the education that you want because again, you haven’t mastered some skills to be able to be proficient in the lower grades to get a higher education to get those jobs.”
Access to computers is what TAP argues opens a creative outlet to springboard these kids’ futures.
“And if the parents can’t afford to buy one they’ll be behind forever and that’s the gap we’re trying to fill,” Sanders said.
“There were families that we heard about that didn’t even have inside plumbing, here in this day and age,” explained Vic Green, vice president of TVCUC,
That makes a household computer the last on the list of priorities when you’re just trying to survive.
“Hopefully what we’re inching closer to is a way for disadvantaged children, to help them get out of the disadvantage,” said VanSwearingen.
“We realize that in many instances they would not have a computer if it wasn’t for our program and that’s why we keep coming in here day after day, doing what we do,” said Sanders.
TVCUC is a 501c(3), meaning all the work their volunteers do refurbishing computers is done on their own time, often pitching in some their own money to help make it work.
“They [youth] may have such talent to be the ones to make the next great discovery but it’s locked in and they can’t get it out. Computers help bring things out,” said VanSwearingen.
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett stopped by the TAP office to change their sign from 9,999 to 10,000 before heading back to Washington D.C.
“Limited government involvement – [if the] federal government would get involved with it too much they’d probably ruin it they would, they’d disqualify something and these guys are just trying to do a good deed,” Burchett said with sincerity. “You know the old saying about no good deed goes unpunished – I’m glad the people in Washington don’t really know about this but I think this could be a model for the rest of the country.”
And in an era where privacy feels more like a luxury than a right, TAP ensures all donated computers are 100 percent wiped clean using military grade software.
“We use a program known as DBAN, which is a military grade wiping program, and it does three full passes that are overwriting the hard drive and totally wiping it clean,” said TAP co-chair Vince Alline.
All TAP needs now is more donated computers even if they don’t work.
Donated computers can be dropped off at the TVCUC office, 244 Lakeside Plaza in Tellico Village.