What started as a hobby turned into something that would change people’s lives.
Ken Starks was rehabilitating from a work-related injury a few years ago when his then 11-year-old daughter, Amanda, asked him how a computer works.
“I had been building and fixing computers as a hobby and told her to go get one and I would show her,” Starks said. “So, I took it apart in my lap and it was from there that The HeliOS Project began.”
Starks said he got a couple of his friends to help him gather up a few old machines and fix them up and before they knew it, they had a whole wall full of ready-to-use computers.
“The HeliOS Project started in November 2005 and its main purpose is to provide computers to students who are economically disadvantaged in the Austin area,” he said, noting that there is a big need in the area. “We actually just delivered our 1,500th computer.”
Starks said not only does The HeliOS Project, a non-profit that consists of three directors, including himself, provide computers to economically disadvantaged students and their families, it also teaches students how to use them at no cost.
“These students are our future – it’s as simple as that,” he said. “One of those students is going to walk on Mars or find a cure for diabetes; however, they cannot do that without a computer.”
Starks said upon delivery of the computer, the directors of The HeliOS Project will spend approximately an hour and a half with each student to teach them how to use the machine.
“We provide them with all of the software necessary to be able to get full use out of their computers, which are operated by Linux,” he said. “We would like to be able to provide them with Internet as well, but that is a little more costly.”
Along with getting students started on the computer, Starks said The HeliOS Project offers free Internet 101 classes in Austin at different times and locations on Wednesday nights.
“We actually have volunteers teaching the classes now and they are open for people of any age,” he said. “The classes are offered in English and Spanish.”
Starks said it has been difficult to find an actual working space for The HeliOS Project; however, they have finally found one in Taylor.
The grand opening will be at 1 p.m., June 4 at 307 Ferguson St.
“The Taylor community has been great on finding us a place,” Starks said. “We are definitely excited to be able to start serving more in Taylor. So far, we have delivered six computers.”
At the grand opening, Starks said they will be raffling three complete computer systems at $2 per ticket or three tickets for $5. There will also be a gift card to an Austin restaurant raffled out, along with T-shirt, mouse pad, etc. giveaways.
Free hot dogs will be available at the grand opening as well.
“The money raised will go right into The HeliOS Project to allow us to help out more students,” he said. “I just want people to come out and see what we’re all about. They can sign-up for classes, which are free and should be starting in Taylor in July.”
To find out more about The HeliOS Project, visit their website at www.heliosinitiative.org or call Starks at (512) 689-6556.
The HeliOS Project is always accepting monetary and computer donations and is always looking for volunteers.