Tucked away in a basement off Diversey Avenue, is a techie’s dream. PCs of every shape and size, laptops of every color and a sea of loose components span the considerable length of the cavernous space.
This basement is occupied by FreeGeek Chicago (@freegeekchicago, 3411 W. Diversey Ave.), a nonprofit organization with two goals: to reuse or safely recycle computer parts so they don’t become hazardous waste, and to make computer technology more accessible to those who lack the money or experience.
Reduce, Reuse, E-Cycle
In Portland back in 2000, FreeGeek founders became concerned with the inaccessibility of e-cycling in the area, as well as the environmental and social impacts of unclean electronic waste disposal. FreeGeek’s initial location (“The Mothership”) has grown to 14 locations in the U.S. and Canada.
FreeGeek Chicago is a place for neighbors to recycle their old computers and accepts donations Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am – 5 pm. The organization recycles the donated electronics to create new computers to be used for educational and job training purposes.
Volunteering at FreeGeek
Taking inspiration from the Open Source Movement, a growing movement of tech-savy individuals who support the use of open source licenses for computer software, FreeGeek was created with a unique organizational model. There are no bosses. Instead, FreeGeek is run by its volunteer community, which is responsible for approving each of the outfit’s five part-time, paid positions.
Volunteers also vote on initiatives and oversee the company’s organization, and also earn $1/hr towards store merchandise.
Volunteers complete basic computer construction and maintenance at FreeGeek’s Build-Up, Test and Tear-Down stations. They also assist with educational classes and workshops.
In 2012, more than 700 individuals participated in volunteer opportunities at FreeGeek. They logged more than 15,600 hours of learning and service. Many volunteers left with a free computer made from parts that otherwise would have found their way into a landfill.
Learn how to build a computer?
FreeGeek hosts classes on all facets of technology that are open to anyone interested. Depending on the class, students learn how to build a computer or use Linux, the operating system installed on all FreeGeek computers.
FreeGeek sponsors an open hack program every Saturday from 2 pm – 5 pm. Geeks, hackers and the curiousstop by to donate their talents to various projects, recently the group built an application to visualize data pulled from the Cook County Sheriff’s Inmate Tracker.
Despite the technological nature of the organization, FreeGeek resists categorization as an enterprise dedicated solely to the tech enthusiast. They welcome people with all levels of experience. FreeGeek’s single qualification for joining is a genuine interest in computers and technology.
All computers made at FreeGeek run on Ubuntu Linux, a free operating system that is created and supported by a worldwide community. These computers may not be able to run the latest games, but they excel at day-to-day activities like web browsing and email, which, at $40-$75, makes them an economical and practical buy.