$2M Free Geek Donation Will ‘Help Build Strong Communities and Strong Families Who Can Fly Together,’ Recipient Says

Tanya Partem
From left to right: Marion Haynes, VP of external affairs for Comcast, Julia DeGraw, chair of the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, Anahi Galindo, resident of Multnomah County and beneficiary of the program, Juan Muro, executive director of Free Geek, Yoana Molina Marcial, executive and programs director at Guerreras Latinas at the announcement event on December 7.

Last week the nonprofit received a $2M grant to close the digital divide in East Multnomah County.

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When Yoana Molina Marcial, executive director of Guerreras Latinas, heard about the $2 million investment in Free Geek from Free Geek’s CEO Juan Muro in July, she says the emotion was overpowering.

“I was crying. I said, ‘This is too good to be true,’” Molina Marcial tells Oregon Business. “But then I read Juan’s Linkedin and he said, ‘We want to partner with Guerreras Latinas,’ and I was like “Oh my gosh, this is for real.” 

Molina Marcial founded Guerreras Latinas at the Rosewood Initiative community center in 2015. It became its own independent nonprofit during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Part of her work providing support to 10,000 women in East Multnomah County’s Latino community involved technical assistance to families without access to computers. Now through her organization’s partnership with Free Geek, she says she will be able to provide members with their own hardware.

“We hear a lot at the center, ‘I have been able to afford a laptop for my kid, but they need that for school and I don’t want to break it. So I have to go to the library or to a friend’s house,’” Molina Marcial says. “This is going to help build strong communities and strong families who can fly together. I feel super grateful for this opportunity. I feel lifted. I feel that it’s just like too, too much joy for me.”

Last week, cable giant Comcast and the Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission announced a joint investment of $2 million investment in Free Geek, a Portland nonprofit focused on advancing equality through technology training and career building. Free Geek’s CEO Juan Muro says the investment will help his organization connect residents and other nonprofit organizations in East Portland, Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, and Troutdale with enough tools and equipment to reach communities they never have before.

“The action plan is centered on partnering with community-based organizations that are already serving folks that are impacted by digital inequality most and so the one goal that we’re trying to achieve together to help these individuals, communities or families reach adoption,” Muro says. “That means that they have the technology hardware and access to equitable broadband in order to thrive, economically. That’s the plan.”

He says his nonprofit is partnering with organizations like Guerreras Latinas, as well as the Multnomah County Library, affordable housing nonprofit Louisa Flowers, and STEM education nonprofit Project LEDO to help distribute the funds in the upcoming four to six quarters.

Muro tells OB that the funding will help to double the number of people currently being helped by Free Geek. He says approximately 3,500 in the proposed areas have never owned a computer, and that the goal of the plan is to close as many of those gaps that currently exist — both in obtaining devices and connecting with digital navigation services and tech support.

“We are already serving about 1,500 or 2,000 individuals with direct services for free. And that cost us already about $1.5 million a year. So this is kind of doubling that work,” Muro says.

Prior to the $2 million gift announcement, Comcast previously announced a $60,000 contribution to Free Geek in July, along with providing free, high-speed Wi-Fi service to Free Geek’s Center for Technology Education & Digital Equity in North Portland. 

Marion Haynes, vice president of external affairs at Comcast, says the specificity of Muro’s action plan and the number of partnerships the organization brought to the table were behind the company’s decision to invest.

 “We have a lot of community partners that operate in this space, but Free Geek is 100% focused on these adoption issues and working in partnership with many of those other community-based organizations that we’ve had a relationship with for a long time,” Haynes says. “We started talking about it maybe five months ago or so. We asked Juan to imagine if you had some additional dollars, what kind of impact you could make in the community by helping to bridge the digital divide, so he went back to work with some of his staff and came up with a plan that I think is very focused on specific areas in Multnomah County where there’s a real identified need. It looked like a really exciting opportunity to really make a difference.”