Digital Navigators rely not only on their training to help clients connect to affordable internet, computers, and digital skills training, but on the evolving landscape of device providers to create new opportunities for clients to adopt large-screen devices. To bolster TPF’s Digital Navigators to serve community members more fully, the Sarasota Technology Users Group opened its doors to representatives from the Digital Navigator Program for a visit to learn more about how the small nonprofit receives computers, repairs them, and distributes them at no cost to people in need. Read on!

Aside from affordable internet and digital skills, the need for large-screen computing devices in the community is dire for ALICE families, older adults, people with disabilities, and others. As part of their training and ongoing support, Digital Navigators from The Patterson Foundation’s (TPF) Digital Navigator Program visited the Sarasota Technology Users Group (STUG) in May along with Maribel Martinez, a consultant with the Digital Access for All initiative, to learn more about the local nonprofit refurbisher that is responsible for distributing over 20,000 free computers since 1986.

“Nationally, refurbished devices have proven to be an important lifeline for people who cannot afford a new computer, which typically ranges in cost between $300–$3,000,” said Maribel Martinez. “The Sarasota area is fortunate to have a local device refurbisher. It is critical that TPF’s Digital Navigators have a close relationship with STUG and understand what computer refurbishment is so they can share correct information with their clients,” added Martinez.

stugMike Hutchinson and his all-volunteer coworkers shared how the small nonprofit receives donated devices, how computers are refurbished, how devices are requested by community members, and how refurbished computers are distributed during the two-hour site visit. “It was a very productive event with a lot of good information exchanged,” said Mike Hutchinson. (MIke Hutchinson (right) pictured with STUG’s all-volunteer team of device refurbishers.)

Digital Navigators from all three of TPF’s Digital Navigator Program cohorts set time aside from their busy schedules to meet the STUG team and learn about refurbished computers. “It was awesome!” said Ben Vanderneck, Digital Navigator from CareerSource Suncoast. “That was time well spent,” said Neirda Thompson-Pemberton, a FUNducation Digital Navigator. “It can be almost impossible to find free computers for people who cannot afford to pay,” added Thompson-Pemberton. “I know we’re going to be calling on them to help us,” said Angela Miles, a Digital Navigator from The Multicultural Health Institute.

STUG’s computers are distributed to people who need them at no charge throughout DeSoto, Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. Computers are donated for refurbishment by local governments, businesses, churches, and even individuals. STUG relies solely on donations and grants to keep going, including purchasing parts such as new batteries and webcams for the computers they refurbish. The small Sawyer Road location is the drop-off, repair, and distribution point. “[We] erase the old data from the computer [to] protect the privacy of its donor. Each unit is inspected, and any hardware problems [such as] bad batteries and [worn out] memory are fixed. Microsoft Windows 10 and Microsoft Office are then loaded onto the computer,” explained Hutchinson.

The STUG team“It’s one thing to describe computer refurbishment to new Digital Navigators or to provide them with the names of organizations who provide refurbished computers to people who need them, but to be able to witness a refurbishment operation in action and to have the opportunity to ask questions of the people who repair the computers to get them ready for distribution, this was a necessary as well as memorable experience for the Digital Navigators,” said Martinez. We appreciate Mike and his team for taking the time to answer vital security questions and being open to collaborating more closely with TPF’s Digital Navigator Program. (The STUG team, TPF’s Digital Navigators, and Maribel Martinez )

To learn how to request or donate a computer, visit


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