Why Free Geek means so much to me and why it’s more important than ever!








You all know how much I love Free Geek.  I’ve seen quite a lot of nonprofits, and I have to say it’s the most amazing one I’ve ever encountered.  Why?  Well, here are a few of the reasons…

  • Free Geek is one of the few organizations in the U.S. that can accurately say it recycles materials it can’t reuse in an environmentally and socially responsible way. None of its materials end up poisoning children on other continents. (Did you see the recent 60 Minutes coverage of this shameful subject?) Do you know where the ewaste you produce ends up? Watch what happens when you ask for documentation about its disposition (and watch the 60 Minutes piece!).  Free Geek has applied for BAN certification and we expect it to come shortly.
  • Free Geek is where the poorest people in the Portland area earn free computers and learn how to use them, gaining valuable job skills that can change their lives.
  • Free Geek is where you find immigrants and refugees building their own computers and taking classes in free software, helping them find a way in their new land.
  • Free Geek is a place where brilliant young geeks get recognized and encouraged.  I just met a 13-year-old boy there who already can program as well as any of the veterans in this magnet for brilliant geeks.  Free Geek is nurturing his talent in a way that wouldn’t happen otherwise.
  • Free Geek is where a man in his mid-80s finds a community that appreciates his talents and where he stays in touch with people.  He’s built more than 500 computers to help the needy get nerdy.  A very smart 5-year-old is now building computers there with his mom!
  • Free Geek truly means what it pays.  Staff members who are paid all get the same hourly rate. Yes, from the person answering the phone to the person dealing with big picture policy.
  • It’s the most grassroots and hands-on organization I’ve ever seen, helping the neediest people in our community.
  • I’ve never met a kinder or more giving group of people in my life.
  • It serves the most diverse group of people of any organization I’ve ever seen, in nearly every measurement: age, gender, background, abilities, disabilities, ethnic & racial, world views, etc. etc.


And of course last but not least there’s the meaning it has in my son Blaine’s life. As many of you know, Blaine was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed and lacks sensation below his armpits.  This past summer, Blaine received an award for “Volunteer Extraordinaire” at Free Geek in recognition that for the past five years, every day Free Geek is open and he is not really really sick, Blaine has been getting himself up and ready to go in and help that amazing nonprofit organization.  I get to see what it takes for Blaine to make his important contribution. What can I say?  He’s my hero.

I’ve always know what Free Geek does for Blaine, but I was stunned to hear what he means to Free Geek.  Recently some of his co-workers there shared some thoughts about what Blaine provides Free Geek.  When I heard these things, my heart soared like a hawk.  I wish every mother had the opportunity to hear people appreciate their son or daughter like this:

  • “Recently my niece signed up to volunteer at Free Geek, opting to work her way through the Computer Build program to earn a free computer.  My advice to her was, ‘Prepare to work independently, overcome great frustration, and when in doubt, stay close to Blaine.'”
  • “Blaine’s tutelage was instrumental in my making it through the Build program at Free Geek (launching me into other areas of contribution), and I know he has provided similar assistance to hundreds, if not thousands of other volunteers there.”
  • “Blaine is an amazingly knowledgable and patient instructor and coordinator of other volunteers. Despite his limited mobility, Blaine is able to help direct and answer questions of our volunteers, which in turn keep our organization running.”
  • “Blaine is among the most valued members of the Free Geek community and of its volunteer labor force.”  
  • “Blaine helps teach others good work skills and reinforces the importance of showing up on time and doing your job with all you have, and he is always willing to learn more from others to share with his students.”
  • “I have been very impressed with Blaine’s patient and consistently upbeat contributions as a volunteer with the Free Geek build program.  He was extremely supportive and helpful to a young man from a Haitian refugee family who learned a lot from a series of afternoons with Blaine: about computers, people, tolerance and empathy from his supportive manner and patient instruction.”
  • “He is a beloved member of our community. It’s impossible to work with Blaine without appreciating his cheer and warmth. I’ve never seen him get irritated, even in the most difficult times; His equanimity helps us all to maintain our own sanity. He’s an inspiring presence.”

What You Can Do to Support Free Geek

Unfortunately, because the bottom has fallen out of the commodities market, greatly affecting the value of recycled materials, Free Geek is hurting right now. And like many social service agencies, demand is higher than ever as people lose their jobs and experience great financial hardship. 

So I’m pleading for your help. Here are several things you can do: Take your no-longer-needed computer and other electronic items to Free Geek at 1731 SE 10th Ave. in Portland, just a couple blocks south of Hawthorne. Make a charitable donation to this wonderful organization (tax deductible of course!).  You can give through PayPal directly on the Free Geek site or through the Willamette Week Give Guide (and get some schwag for your trouble!).  Or of course you can mail or deliver a check to Free Geek, 1731 SE 10th Ave., Portland OR  97214.  (Tell them Marie sent you.)

As many of you know, I’ve been so inspired by this organization and what it means that I made (with my beloved Rev Phil) a movie showing how wonderful it is.  

You can see on YouTube at:

The Short Version about 5 minutes long (viewed more than 50,000 times so far!):

The Complete Movie about 12 minutes long:


12 responses

  1. This is truly awesome and a heartlifting story.
    I’m a huge fan of Free Geek (so much so that my wife has enacted a spending limit anytime I go into the store.
    With my new startup business in the sapling stage most of my office is outfitted with items from Free Geek. It’s almost always my first stop when repairing older equipment and most of my clients have been introduced to Free Geek as the place to take equipment that’s been end of lifed.

  2. Thanks for writing, Marie! I have been trying to express some of the same things, but there was too much too say. I’m going to forward this post to my Christmas list.

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  6. Marie – I love your post! I have several clients currently involved in volunteering at Free Geek and eagerly looking forward to the day they can acquire their own computers.

    One is an veteran with zero income, studying to become an accountant. Because of his disabilities, he’s hoping to be able to work from home.

    Another has never used a computer before, and she loves the connections she’s made at Free Geek. She is feeling like she’s a part of the world again, and they give her so much encouragement and positive feedback!

    Wonderful program – and Blaine sounds like an amazing guy. Kudos to both him and his parent(s)!!

    Cynthia H
    People Helping People

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