Insurance Salesman Delivers Technology to Underserved Areas

If there were a remake of “The Graduate,” odds are, “technology” would replace “plastics” as the one word of advice to give to aimless graduates.

“To get a job today, you have to be able to use a computer,” says Andy Vass, founder of the nonprofit organization Technology for Humanity (T4H) in Northbrook. “It affects everybody. Kids coming out of college are in trouble if they don’t have computer skills.”

T4H sets up charities with computers donated by businesses that are upgrading their systems. The charities serve residents of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, people with disabilities and veterans. The donated computers, which are at most five to six years old and in working condition, are placed in churches, community centers, private residences and schools.

Vass, an insurance salesman, launched T4H to help bridge the gap between those who have access to technology and those who don’t.

In the nearly two decades he’s been at it, Vass estimates that he’s coordinated the placement of several thousand computers into the hands of people who need them. He has seen technology break the cycle of poverty—he says a high school graduate can take a few technology courses and earn as much money as someone with a college degree—and improve the lives of people with disabilities.

He runs T4H from his Northbrook home without an office, warehouse or staff, although he does have a Board of Directors that meets occasionally.

“There is no overhead,” he says. “The whole idea, from beginning to end, is barebones. It’s about moving things from here to there. I’m just like a little band leader, and everyone else is in the band.”

It was his rabbi’s 1998 High Holiday sermon about the importance of taking social action that motivated Vass to launch T4H. At the time, he worked for an internet service provider and realized that, as much as the Internet was bringing people together, a lack of access to technology could divide them and lead to problems, such as increases in unemployment and crime.

“It’s not about the technology,” he says of T4H.  “It’s about people reaching out to other people to help make the world better.”

Join Vass on his mission by asking someone you know, “What do you do with your old computers?” and directing them to the T4H website. The organization is always in need of computers and volunteers to teach children basic software applications.