Amanda Jo Cary starts nonprofit to bridge digital divide

STAYING CONNECTED: Amanda Jo Cary sent out a call for donated laptops in March. Five months later, she's received 15 computers, financial contributions and is launching a new nonprofit, Reconnecting. Photo courtesy of Cary

Have an old laptop lying around? Amanda Jo Cary wants it. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Cary, who works for the Buncombe County Reentry Council, was thrilled she could work virtually from home. But as everything shifted online, she began getting daily calls from recently incarcerated clients who needed a computer to access Zoom meetings and digital classes.

“Does anyone have a used laptop they’re not using?” Cary asked her Facebook network in late March. Within an hour, donors had pledged four computers. 

The first laptop went to a client named Rodney on July 30. After wiping the computer’s hard drive and installing a fresh copy of Windows 10, Cary reset the system with Rodney’s own username. When he turned the laptop on and saw his name on the login screen, Cary remembers, Rodney had the biggest smile on his face. 

“He had never had a computer before,” she recalls. “It was amazing. People are just so grateful to have a tool that’s going to help them be successful in returning and reentering into the community.”

Five months later, Cary has received 15 laptops and is launching a new nonprofit, Reconnecting: Laptops for Reentry. Four local agencies — Goodwill Project Reentry, Upskill WNC, Homeward Bound and Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness — will each refer one person to receive a laptop every month. The recipient must have a valid need for a computer, she says, such as attending online classes, 12-step recovery meetings or virtual medical appointments.

Cary eventually hopes to expand the program to include people in recovery and offer basic computer training classes for laptop recipients. “Everyone seems to think this is a really big need, and everybody wants to help in some way,” she says. “It’s been really, really awesome to see.”  

This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at news@mountainx.com.

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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