Machine queen

Pat Furr

Photo By Leslie Williams

Fourteen years ago, Pat Furr set out on a mission—to provide refurbished computers to classrooms and families who could not afford them. Furr, a past board member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Chico Unified School District, started collecting computer donations in her own home. Computers for Classrooms Inc. was born, and has since developed into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse, providing more than 8,000 refurbished computers a year to schools and needy families throughout California, and beyond. Furr, who was honored with the inaugural Jeannie Posey Award at last Friday’s Women’s Achievement Awards, also recruits volunteers who have minimal computer experience. The hands-on environment enables them to develop computer skills—and allows them to take home a product of their own hard work.

What inspired you to start Computers for Classrooms?

I went to China on a tour in 1990 and a tour guide told us that they were telling Chinese children they needed two things to be successful: to be fluent in English and a computer. I’d been on the school board, and I knew that we had very few computers in the classroom. I had a background in business and computers, so I thought “I’ll get businesses to donate computers to give to classrooms.” The word “epiphany” comes to mind.

How do you distribute the computers to the schools?

Mainly what we do is by word of mouth. We don’t advertise other than our Web site, so we get requests from literally all over the world that way. Of course, there are teachers and principals here who knew of our program.

Why do you think it’s so important to provide computers to schools and families?

They can’t afford it on their own. We have many first-time computer users that get computers from us. If they have problems, we give them one-on-one help to figure out what went wrong. People really need computers now to get jobs, to get health-care information, and now, more and more government documents are available only through the Web. Also, the big thing is that children need to have an equal playing field.

Have there been any particularly memorable moments?

There are thousands of them—that’s why I do this. Yesterday a woman who is home-bound had her caregiver come in, get the computer and we got her set up on the Internet. She wanted to be in contact with her son, who is in Iraq. We did one recently where we provided a laptop to an assistant at the university, who was in a terrible mobile-home fire and lost everything. We have people who never though they’d be able to own a computer. It’s a win-win program.