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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2009 05:28 pm

Bringing Computer Banc back to life

“The report of my death is an exaggeration.” —Mark Twain, May 1897.

To paraphrase the great American storyteller, the report of Computer Banc’s demise was a bit premature. After abruptly closing its doors Sept. 2, Computer Banc has reopened with limited operations. It resumed distribution of computers beginning Oct. 1.

“When the board met Sept. 1, we looked at where we were financially at that time, looked at donations scheduled to come in and the balances in the bank, and realized we did not have enough money to keep the operation running,” said Computer Banc board president Kevin Stevenson. “We had less of a computer inventory now than a year ago, which was also a concern of the board. So we made the decision to cease the operations, and at that time we notified the staff, notified our volunteers and supporters.”

Stevenson said difficulty obtaining state and private grants and the loss of recycling income due to changes in state regulations also contributed to the nonprofit’s funding shortfall.

“It was, to a degree, unforeseen. We knew we had some financial issues. It became urgent faster than we anticipated. It was a surprise as we looked at our cash statements and the fact we were already there,” he said.

Word spread quickly. By Sept. 3 (less than one month after Computer Banc celebrated its 10-year anniversary), word of the closure appeared in local media, apparently shocking longtime supporters into action.

“As soon as the news got out, we had a lot of outreach from the community expressing the value of Computer Banc as an organization, expressing their sorrow at the prospect of us no longer existing and offering support to us in various ways, whether it was financial or in-kind donations,” said Stevenson. “So within a two-day time frame we looked over the offers we’d received and realized we had enough funding to resume at least limited operations. What we are doing now is seeking further support in order to reopen full operations.”

Another cost-saving measure meant putting paid staff on furlough, including Computer Banc executive director David Fowler, who now serves as the volunteer development coordinator.

Fowler said Computer Banc will start working closely with its long-time major computer equipment donors, and other possibilities.

“One of the board’s dilemmas was that we had already gone through 600-odd computers this year, and our inventory was extremely low, literally until the day after the board made its initial decision (to close),” Fowler said. “That was when a major corporation called and said, ‘We’re gonna give you 300-plus computers!’

“It isn’t an issue if they have the computers right now to give to us, but if they can tell us roughly when they are going to cycle them out. We need to get on their calendars and vice versa. So we can increase our output,” Fowler said.

Computer Banc’s Sept. 16 press release also heralded a “Back to Basics” fundraising campaign to raise enough money for full operations through 2010. The goal of the campaign is to focus on Computer Banc’s core strength — providing computers to families and nonprofit organizations — and establish financial partnerships.

Interested businesses and individuals should call Computer Banc at 528-9506. Donations will also be accepted at any Illinois National Bank or Security Bank location or online at www.computerbanc.info. People who need computers are encouraged to call.

Computer Banc specifically thanked several organizations and businesses, including Horace Mann, Hillier Storage & Moving, Catholic Charities, IBEW Local 193, Illinois Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, Salvation Army, Springfield Electric and Security Bank.

“In this economy everyone is feeling the pinch and Computer Banc was no exception,” Stevenson said. “The reaction to Computer Banc’s closing, however, was overwhelming. We knew all along that our mission of providing technology was essential to improving the learning process and eventual career opportunities of at-risk K-12 area students. Now we know others in the community feel as strongly about our mission as we do.”

Since 1999 Computer Banc has refurbished computers donated by area businesses and provided them to families of at-risk K-12 students in central Illinois. Each computer is loaded with Windows XP and a collection of educational software. Refurbished computers are also provided to area social service agencies for use by the agencies and their clients. —Rick Wade

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