TAMPA, Fla. — Tony Selvaggio walked through his sprawling technology warehouse hunting for just the right pieces to his next project.
For six years, the eSmart Recycling founder has been turning around “outdated” forms of technology and creating tech labs all over Tampa Bay.
“I’m Tampanian. The city of Tampa has been incredible for me. I love this community. I fell in love with this community,” Selvaggio said. “This is the place that gave me purpose. It gave me my family. It gave me my kids. It gave me my business. So, I’ll be forever in debt. This is my backyard.”
He’s deployed more than 1,700 pieces of technology to around two dozen computer labs in Tampa Bay. Most end up in computer labs designed to give underprivileged neighborhoods a place to go use otherwise unavailable technology.
Computers can be used to fill out resumes, write school essays or apply for jobs. And, it teaches kids entrepreneurship. In the next two months, he’ll deploy another 100 computers.
In October 2019, he took his mission far beyond the borders of Tampa Bay.
“We don’t see the opportunities for deploying equipment just as a computer donation, but we see it as an opportunity to collaborate long-term and make an impact in that community,” he said.
Selvaggio and a team of five people set up a 25-computer lab at a school called Fe y Alegria No. 28 in Lima, Peru. He chose Lima because he is half Peruvian. His mother was born there while his father is from Venezuela. The capital city has many schools devoid of the necessary technology.
“They need a lot of resources in that city,” he said. “I think they see us as a beacon of hope.”
The experience changed his life.
“All these kids had the Peruvian flag and the American flag,” he said. “They were so appreciative.”
The technology shortage in smaller countries like Peru is great but access to reliable computers is a domestic problem as well. In the United States, more than 15 million kids (roughly 21 percent of American children) live under the line of poverty. Many of them lack access to technology and hardware needed for school and to remain competitive in today's economy.
This comes despite annual electronics sales in the United States topping $206 billion dollars. And, the average American home has 24 electronic products.
“We have the opportunity to help and we have the opportunity to empower. For me, it was very humbling because it opens many doors," he said.
eSmart Recycling is “a mission-driven enterprise” which aims to “recycle old technology from individuals and companies and use the proceeds to fund tech labs for kids without access to computers worldwide."
The company has set up collection points around Tampa Bay where people can drop off unwanted technology like computers and tablets. eSmart will shred the hard drives clean before repurposing them to eliminate sensitive information. The process saves electronics from ending up in landfills and helps outfit technology labs for children.
The school where Selvaggio’s team set up the lab made technology available to 1,200 kids. He was able to deliver the computers in person and offer a Q&A with about 900 of the students.
The best part – it’s all free.
“Hardware and access to computers is just one component of it but having a great community that was so receptive to what we wanted to do and trying new things, that was encouraging,” Selvaggio said. “This was a group effort. It’s not just me.”
Peru is not the only foreign nation benefiting from eSmart Recycling. Selvaggio has also sent technology to Columbia, Dominican Republic, Haiti and the United States.
In April 2019, the company joined forces with the Consulate of Mexico and Consul Felipe Ulises Cuellar Sanchez to empower the rural communities of Florida with technology. The partnership helped open Community Plazas to service more than 500,000 at-risk families and children.
The lack-of-access problem is shrinking thanks to eSmart Recycling. Its Facebook page posted this startling statistic in January: “In the United States right now, there are more than 30 million kids living under the line of poverty.” Adding tech labs back to the local community and, now, internationally, is a way to help eradicate problems related to that poverty.
Selvaggio plans to make a return trip to Peru in April to deliver 25 more laptops. He plans to establish an ongoing relationship with the city to set up more tech labs there.
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