It’s the last day of class, and a group of farmers, both men and women, leave class with an almost-new computer under their arms, including monitor and software, and with the knowledge of how to do e-mail, use a spreadsheet, write a letter with word processing, and search the Internet. They are given refurbished computers and technology training, which in just a few short weeks have become valuable assets in helping them be more productive on the farm.
With computer hardware and technology improving at a rapid pace, businesses and individuals purchase the latest equipment to be more efficient and to replace older systems. As a result, there are relatively new computers no longer being used, although there are many Kentucky families and businesses that would benefit from owning a computer. It is estimated that 80 percent of the nation’s computers are in storage because their owners don’t know how to dispose of them.
Businesses and individuals are now donating their older computers to places like McConnell Technology and Training Center (MTTC) in Louisville, which is an arm of the nonprofit organization Innovative Productivity Inc. The program functions on a cost-recovery basis, according to Bill Thompson, director of computer technology programs at MTTC. When MTTC receives computer donations, they are totally refurbished and loaded with the latest software. Then individuals or groups sign up for MTTC computer classes called PC Essentials, which are offered around the state, and take the refurbished computers home with them at the end of the class.
Sharon Staviski, an instructor at Maysville Community College, has been teaching the PC Essentials class in several counties for the Computers for Farm Use program and says, “I absolutely love doing this course because the people are truly interested in learning. We usually have perfect attendance.”
She says the participants range in age from their 20s to 70s. They are taught how to hook up the computers and how to use a wide variety of software that is loaded on the computers. The training is spread over four evenings and totals 12 hours.
Another instructor is Denise Walker, from Tollesboro, who says, “Some of the farmers had never seen a computer and they felt overwhelmed on the first day of class. But when they finished the program, they felt confident and were tickled to death. We have them build up their mouse skills by playing Solitaire, which makes learning fun and interesting. This is a wonderful program for farmers and I wish they could offer it to more people. Instead of trying to remember which animals had babies or who is producing the most milk, the farmers can use the spreadsheets.”
One group that benefits is farmers involved in the tobacco buyouts. Loretta Wagoner, 44, from Olive Hill, says, “A friend told me about the Computers for Farm Use program, so I signed up to learn more about using the Excel spreadsheet program to record farm receipts for cattle feed, hiring extra labor, and any other expenses that my husband, Theodore, and I have to show for taxes.”
The computer and training cost Wagoner $25, and she says the program “is a good educational course that is presented in a way that is easy to understand. It is very beneficial to farmers.”
Johnny Lawson, 55, took the course at the Elliott County Public Library after reading about it in the newspaper. Not only has it helped him learn more about computers and how to search the Internet, his children now use the computer for their schoolwork.
“I’m planning to use the computer for farming,” he says. “It is a great resource and the course teaches you the basics. It’s as handy as a pocket on a shirt!”
Darrell and Elaine Fannin of Sandy Hook both took the PC Essentials course, but Darrell is the one who uses the computer the most. Besides owning more than 500 acres and cattle, the Fannins also have a business called Fannin Farm Equipment and Repair, which is where Darrell really makes use of the computer.
“With my small business, I get a freight-paid discount if I order parts online instead of over the phone,” says Darrell, 57. “This amounts to about $200 a month that I save, which means a lot. I use the Internet to look up many things, like different types of heat for homes, university studies on cattle, and agricultural information about lime. When the Johnson County Fiscal Court needed a road sweeper, they called me and I found the information they needed on the Internet. The computer is helpful, saves me money, and opens up markets for me. I plan to use it to keep records about my beef cattle and the corn silage and hay that I raise.”
The farmers were funded through a joint grant from the Kentucky Commodity Growers’ Cooperative Association and the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy. In another program at Hopkinsville, the Computers for Farm Use program offered free refurbished computers, plus training to participants, paid for by a grant at Hopkinsville Community College. Nearly 700 farmers across the state have participated in the PC Essentials program.
Doug Bennett, public information officer for Kentucky state parks, talks about the 40 computers and training made possible for the park rangers through a grant by the Department of Kentucky Adult Education. Until taking the course and receiving the computers, the rangers in the KSP system mailed reports to the police. Now they are sent by e-mail, which is much faster and more efficient. “The rangers are thrilled because the computers and the training they received give them the tools they need to be more professional.”
A grant request has been made for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources agents to receive computers. Others that have participated in the PC Essentials program include hundreds of senior citizens, more than 2,600 Welfare-to-Work clients, and 15 entrepreneurs and small-business start-ups. Ninety members of the Kentucky Artisans Heritage Trail, funded by Eastern Kentucky University, will participate in the program in 2006. The Kent School of Social Work at the University of Louisville received funding for PC Essentials training for 200 senior citizens so that they and their caregivers can participate in a Geriatric Medical Evaluation and Self-Management program. Their donated computers are currently awaiting additional software. There are unknown numbers of health-care professionals, Alzheimer’s caregivers, and low-income groups (some sponsored by their employers) that have received computers and training.
Another program just recently begun by the state is No Child Left Offline. Proposed by Governor Ernie Fletcher, the program targets at-risk 8th-grade students who qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program in Kentucky schools.
Bill Thompson says any group or individual can participate in the PC Essentials course and receive computers. The amount they pay for the computer and training depends upon whether or not a grant has been obtained to cover the cost. Without a grant, the cost is $295 per computer, which includes computer, software, and training.
“We are proud of the role that we play in bringing technology to so many people in the state, and we will continue to diligently seek grants to provide the PC Essentials training,” says Thompson.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: NO CHILD LEFT OFFLINE
For details on the state’s initiative to provide computers to underprivileged 8th-grade students in Kentucky, and information on how to donate your old computer, click here: No Child Left Offline
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: HOW TO GET A COMPUTER OR DONATE ONE
To find ways to donate your old computer, or get one donated to you, click here: computer