A brief history of Free Geek Arkansas by Julia

The following was posted by Julia to our Blabber email list.

It was arkansas. FreeGeek Arkansas. It started with a board, structured similar to HacDC’s, out of the president’s garage. It had a different guiding principal, as the goal was to educate the public, provide machinery to the public(reuse), and recycle whatever the public would drag in. We ran a “build three, take one home” program, providing all of the education and training to build the machines. To grow, our president found us a nice space (4000 square feet, on the town square!), but became overwhelmed by the organization growing. He, and many of the board members started getting hired away, and having to leave because of the recession. I was left, as treasurer, with a mostly idle board. We became tiny, organizationally, and unlike myself, almost no-one could use a soldering iron. Seeing the need for skills training, i set up my first classes, to train our board and volunteers in how to repair PCs. I set up a motherboard reworking station, and proceeded to replace the capacitors on thousands of boards, creating more machines for the public. I even got good at reflowing RAM sticks, and built a few generations of 3D printers there. The place did not run on a membership model, instead making money from donations, given to us by the public for fixing their gear. I paid the rent myself for many years, until finally getting the place to break even, and even get a $25K grant, shortly before I left.

I miss many of the people there. My mother, and my father both started volunteering there, which personally is the only time me and my father bonded over anything. He served by helping me teach others to build machines, and providing access control to the high value equipment that would frequently ‘walk off’. My mother ran a small thrift store in the front of the facility with any of the excess machines we built. Nonprofits were allowed to basically roam and pillage anything they needed, that we did not have an organizational need to have.

We had our share of heroes, villans, and misguided individuals. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Volunteer at your local hackerspace, folks.

Julia Longtin

Free Geek Arkansas today can be found here: