Published on 01/07/09

Students get free PCs

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

During the holidays, 50 lucky Georgia students got their own personal computer, and neither Santa nor their parents had to pay a penny. The free computers were awarded through Georgia 4-H’s Need-A-Computer Program.

The program began eight years ago as the brainchild of then 4-H’er Rachel McCarthy of Walton County. She and her father Jim refurbished donated computers for needy 4-H'ers in her home county. When she graduated, her sister Amanda inherited the project.

In 2003, the Georgia 4-H Youth Technology Leadership Team took the project to the state level. Since then, the team has awarded more than 200 computers to students across Georgia.

Must be a 4-H'er to apply

To apply for a free computer, students must be in the fifth through 12th grades and be a member of 4-H. The students must also write an essay about why they want and need a computer and submit letters of reference from their teachers and community leaders.

Members of the 4-H technology team or collegiate 4-H’ers deliver the computers to 4-H Fall Forum where the computers are picked up by representatives of the winners’ local UGA Cooperative Extension office. The 4-H agent then delivers the computer to the winner.

Sixth-grader Beatriz Jiminez of Eastman was one of the lucky computer winners. Jiminez’s reasons for wanting a computer weren’t purely selfish.

A bilingual student, she helps her teachers by translating for a student who doesn’t speak English, said Beverly Green, Jiminez’s 4-H leader.

“She was so excited when I told she had won that she grabbed me and gave me a big hug,” Green said. “The possibilities are endless for her now that she has a computer, and she can help many other students, too.”

Donated computers

“All 50 computers were donated from George Walton Academy in Monroe," said Cheryl Varnadoe, a UGA Extension 4-H specialist and the technology leadership team's state coordinator.

The team accepts computer donations all year and stores them in a room donated by StorageMart. Each fall they refurbish the computers for the winning applicants. This includes loading them with licensed software programs.

"Most of the computers are two or three years old," Varnadoe said. "We don't accept older computers because we want to give the students computers that will be capable of running current programs and the Internet."

This year, the tech team received 160 applications for the 50 available computers.

For more information on donating a computer or to apply for the 2009 program, visit

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.