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Celebration of Service

Grant helps people with disabilities expand computer re-use program

In Minnesota, Steve Kann and IBM volunteers support Ability Building Center

“I have never been prouder of an IBM team than I was on our Celebration of Service Day,” says Steve Kann, an engineer at IBM’s location in Rochester, Minnesota, United States.

Earlier in 2011, Steve and Ability Building Center (ABC), a not-for-profit that provides rehabilitation and employment services for people with disabilities and other special needs in southern Minnesota, were awarded an IBM Catalyst Grant for the work they would begin on June 15, 2011—IBM’s Celebration of Service Day, when IBM employees and retirees around the world came together to volunteer their time and expertise to make a difference in their communities.

On that day, Steve and more than 50 IBM volunteers worked side by side with ABC clients—people with disabilities—to refurbish used computer technology and distribute the equipment to others with disabilities, to organizations that support them, and to eligible individuals with limited access to technology. The team also helped first-time users understand computer basics.

Skills in demand

IBM in Minnesota and Ability Building Center have been partners since ABC’s founding in 1956. Steve, who has been on the ABC board of directors for six years and served a term as board president, is following a long line of IBM volunteers who have contributed to helping ABC and its clients over the decades.

ABC clients are people with mental illness, hearing and visual impairments, physiological and neurological challenges, and other intellectual or developmental disabilities or special needs. The skills and services of ABC’s clients are employed by companies throughout the area for assignments such as confidential document imaging, mailing assistance, sewing, cashiering, and computer refurbishing.

“ABC has clients working at the IBM site in Rochester doing various jobs like delivering mail, working in the cafeteria and lunch room, and doing errand services,” says Steve, a 23 year veteran of IBM. “ABC clients are highly visible on site, so a large number of IBM employees have gained a true appreciation for all that they are capable to do. I’ve been close friends with the ABC clients throughout all these years.”

An awesome day

Every Wednesday ABC clients work with six to eight IBM employees or retirees and other volunteers to refurbish, troubleshoot and distribute about ten computers. The plan for June 15th was to accelerate the expansion of the refurbishing program by creating greater awareness of the service and products, and increasing capacity.

The goal was to re-sell 100 computers, while increasing future output from 10 refurbished computers a week to 25. Another goal was to increase ABC client hours in this area from 18 hours a week to 45 hours per week; as ABC says on their web site “everyone benefits when people with disabilities work.”

The results were impressive: the team distributed 150 computers—and requests continue to come in. The service day was highlighted on local television, and ABC was refurbishing approximately 16 computers a week by the end of August. In July and August, ABC sold more than 80 computers to three school districts who learned about Ability Built Computers from the publicity on the Centennial Day of Service.

“It was truly an awesome day,” Steve says. “We received many notes of congratulations and inquiries about how folks can continue to be active with ABC.”

The team is now so busy that Steve is planning to work with IBM engineering volunteers to redesign the ABC work space to improve work flow and capacity even more.

Opportunity to work—a reason for tears

In thinking about the Catalyst Grant and the IBM Celebration of Service Day, Steve says that serving on a not-for-profit board helps you stay aware of ways to help your community, and in his case, how he can help ABC fulfill its mission.

At the annual ABC All Employee Banquet, Steve says, “It is truly heart warming to see how excited our clients are when they receive their service awards, which are small gifts of appreciation. Some of them react like they’ve just won the lottery. All of their friends are clapping, family members are crying—including me.”

He adds, “Occasionally a client will grab the microphone and thank their parents, God, and their supervisors for helping them have the opportunity to work. I tell you, it just doesn't get better than that.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.