Technology for Humanity bridges the digital gap

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Andy Vass sees the key to improving a fragmented society resting in one object: the computer. The retail wholesaler-turned insurance broker realized it in the early 1980s when the economy was on the brink of change and then again in 1996 when the Internet world turned on its head. Way before smartphones and Google, Vass recognized a divide.

The core family might come out fine. The broken families, the impoverished, the underserved?

“Technology could be wonderful for humans on the planet or terrible,” he said. “It may separate people rather than bring them together.”

Technology for Humanity — a charity spearheaded by Vass that he runs out of his Northbrook home office — is his effort to bridge that digital gap with gently used computers, monitors, keyboards and printers. He collects five- to seven-year-old equipment from companies refurbishing their collection and adorns schools and computer labs most in need. He focuses on minority groups, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.

Vass said the desire to do good is tied to his upbringing. He was raised a Reform Jew and now attends a Glencoe congregation where social action is always stressed. His parents were both Holocaust survivors from Hungary, his father placed in Mauthausen and mother in Auschwitz.

“People like me, the next generation of survivors … The need to fix things is there,” he said. “The progress of humanity: it’s always two steps forward, one step back.”

It took time for the charity to catch on. Now, the pipeline has been cracked open enough on both ends where businesses looking to donate computers reach out to Vass, and those coming up short are aware of a resource. Recently, in the span of two weeks, a Bronzeville computer lab received 15 computers and another 15 found a home in a north side Chicago school where kids — many of whom were special needs — hailed from all parts of the globe.

Dry spells still crop up where two weeks can pass without the exchange of a single computer.

“We need ten times the computers we can get,” said Vass, who wants to figure out a steadier monthly stream. “The bottom line is if a kid comes out of high school today and doesn’t have a computer or know how to use one, they’re screwed. But we’re also screwed.”

If your company or organization is looking to donate equipment or would like to place a request to receive some, contact Vass at andy@technologyforhumanity.org, call (847) 909-7500 or visit www.technologyforhumanity.org.