Local business owner donates computer lab to Study Buddies program
By Steven Hoffman
On Monday, Feb. 5, a group of students who participate in the Study Buddies after-school program in Kennett Square visited one of Chester County's most innovative businesses for a tour. Steve Figgatt, the founder and CEO of West Grove-based Sycamore International, led the students on a trek around the business that buys old technology like computers, iPads, or laptops from schools, businesses, and hospitals, and then refurbishes them to be used again, effectively recycling millions of pounds of electronics each year. The students even got to see some of the Sycamore International technicians at work on refurbishing the devices.
Ethan Cramer, the executive director of the Joseph & Sarah Carter Community Development Corporation (Carter CDC), which operates the Study Buddies program, said that the donation was appreciated and much-needed—the students had been working on old computers that could no longer support the programs that the students need to use in order to complete their homework assignments from school. Most of the computers that they had been using were more than 12 years old.
During the tour and Figgatt's visit to the Studies Buddies program, students and teachers expressed their gratitude to the CEO for donating the computer lab, which features iMac computers.
Some of the Study Buddies students are now learning how to disassemble and reassemble computer CPUs, while others are working on the Scratch Program that has been downloaded on the computers so that they are able to explore basic programming. Working on basic computer programming helps the students improve their ability to think logically, which has myriad benefits as they mature and go through life.
“They are really thoughtful, smart kids,” Cramer said of the students. “When we invest in these kids, we are investing in the community.”
Leon Spencer, the longtime public servant and former mayor and council member in Kennett Square, gets the credit for first pairing up the Study Buddies program with Sycamore International.
“Leon Spencer was the one who made the connection,” Figgatt explained. “I heard about the program from Leon, and it seemed like a great opportunity to be able to help.”
Figgatt, a resident of West Chester Borough and a graduate of Henderson High School, started Sycamore International about seven years ago. His idea was to recycle computers and other electronic equipment that still had usefulness, but was on the verge of being tossed away by schools or hospitals or businesses that need more up-to-date equipment to meet their daily needs. Sycamore International would pay these school districts or hospitals for the devices—which is good—and then they could wipe all the computers and electronics clean and the technicians could then diagnose and perform any repairs or refurbishments that are necessary. When all the work is complete, the devices—instead of being discarded—are ready to be used again. According to Figgatt, they typically can refurbish up to 15,000 devices per month. Often, the refurbished devices end up in the hands of users who might not otherwise be able to afford brand new equipment, which is also a good thing. Being in a position to occasionally make donations to programs like Study Buddies is an additional plus to operating a growing, successful business.
Figgatt said that once an ongoing expansion project is completed later this year, the facility, which is on Old Baltimore Pike in West Grove, will be approximately 30,000 square feet.
As important as the computer lab donation was to the Study Buddies, it was also great that the students had the opportunity to tour a Chester County business and interact with a local entrepreneur who created an innovative company that employs dozens of people.
Meaghan Toohey, an instructor with the Study Buddies program said that the children really enjoyed the tour and learning about what is certainly one of the most interesting businesses in the area.
Cramer noted that touring a business like this, which employs local people with practical training, can illustrate to students that if they study and work hard in school, they can find a good job. It is all within their reach. Cramer said that he thinks the students will remember the field trip for a long time.
Even the adults who accompanied the children on the tour were impressed at the work that is being done at Sycamore International. Last year alone, 1.8 million pounds of electronics did not end up being dumped into landfills because it was processed through the West Grove business and found a new life. Sycamore International employs approximately 40 people and does extensive work with schools and hospitals throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, especially in the southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey areas.
Cramer pointed out that it’s great to see a business in southern Chester County making such a big impact by being innovative, socially aware, and environmentally friendly.
“It’s overwhelming that these kids get to see this,” Cramer said. “This business employs local people. It’s a business that is very responsible. These kids are the future and this kind of company is the future.”