Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
An information technology employee at Family Support Hawaii has brought smiles to scores of keiki in West Hawaii by providing them with free laptop computers.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took root in Hawaii, and schools turned to online learning to finish up the year, Walter Bacxa saw a need to get computers in the hands of students in order to keep up with their course work.
“I was having breakfast one day when school closures from the pandemic started,” said Bacxa. “I have twin girls who have their own technology set up at home. They were mentioning that some of their classmates at Konawaena Middle School really don’t have any technology at home. I thought there were probably be a whole bunch of kids that won’t have any access to technology. That’s how it came about.”
He started out by creating a social media group named Techie for the Keiki and invited all his friends to join.
“Within a couple of hours someone came up and said I have an old laptop and want to donate to your cause. It blossomed from there,” said Bacxa.
He said the initiative just grew and grew as the word got out. Teachers were messaging him for requests and he received nominations from Kahakai, Konawaena Holualoa schools. Before he knew it, so many requests came in that he had to create a waiting list.
“People were willing to wait two weeks to get a computer,” he said. “There’s been so many generous donors…people from the community willing to step up.”
Some of the laptop donations he received required a replacement keyboard or chargers, so he put the word out for anyone who want to sponsor a keyboard from Amazon to contact him.
The community came through again, with Amazon gift certificates to buy whatever parts he needed.
People started to want to donate cash, but he was hesitant to accept monetary donations. That’s when his employer, Family Support Hawaii set up an account for people to make monetary tax deductible donations through their website, which he said legitimized it.
“It added credibility to their donations, I had that responsibility to them,” he said.
To date Bacxa has given about 70 laptops to students in West Hawaii. Most are refurbished, but some new laptops were also donated.
“Hopefully, if businesses are upgrading their computers soon, they’ll send the old ones to us,” he said.
The teachers, without giving any names, share the stories of the kids they nominate to receive laptops.
“Some of the stories break your heart,” he said, noting one recipient said they never had anything like the tablet they received. “It’s truly a rewarding thing.”
Bacxa said teachers are the unsung heroes. They know their students capabilities and backgrounds so he prioritize the requests based on the nominations.
“It has been so awesome to see the results,” he said.
Konawaena Middle School teacher Jannica Cuaresma Breslin nominated one of her students, and Bacxa was able to give him a computer within a couple of weeks, allowing that student to revise work and boost his grades.
“That student was so grateful that there are community members that cared for him,” said Cuaresma Breslin. “He was so very surprised that strangers thought of him and made a kind gesture. To him, the world felt a little more smaller and closer to that student.”
Two computers were donated for students nominated by fellow Konawaena teacher Mina Narita.
“Since they have siblings, four students have actually gotten benefit from this. Students were humble, so appreciative as well as the parents,” she said.
Narita works with ELL (English Language Learners), and she said many of her students didn’t have technology that was required for them to complete assignments online.
“They have been working on paper packets but I can’t imagine how isolated and disconnected from school/learning they might have felt. I feel a little bit relieved that at least these students have now access to learning,” she said.
Bacxa is accepting laptops or tablets with chargers in good working order. To donate a computer or make a monetary donation visit www.techieforthekeiki.org.
“The school year is about to close but I’m still going at it because we don’t know what the future holds,” said Bacxa. “As long as there’s a need, I’ll continue to do it as long as I have the support from the community.”
Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to email@example.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.