Couple Makes Free Computers Available To Students


Bill Blickley is a former third ward city commissioner and a local small business owner.
His wife LaVerne, a teacher, serves as an elected board member on the Grand Rapids Public Library.

The couple shares in community service through their own ministry, Wherever God Wills, a non-profit organization.

One of their latest ventures is helping close the digital divide. They place computers in the homes of low income city neighborhoods, free of charge to students in grades seven and up, in families that cannot afford them.

While no dollar amount is attached, there is a requirement to be met.

To qualify, students and their families complete 10 hours of community service at a nonprofit organization of their choice and provide proof. This requirement adds dignity to accepting the free equipment. In a sense, the person pays, not with dollars but with time.

"We do not look at what we are doing as charity," LaVerne said. "The person puts in 10 hours of community service. 

It takes Bill 10 hours to assemble a computer system. It*s equal. That makes us all partners."

 Bill upgrades the memory and power to a level that will enable students to complete school assignments.


welcomes student families and helps Bill with computers.


Students may choose between having  Works...* or  Office Professional ...* or  Office- Small Business ...* installed on their computers, as well as  Money...*. All programs provide tools for word processing (writing letters and school papers), spreadsheet, (doing accounting type work), and database, (organizing lists of people and things).

 Works is the program often provided on school computers and is designed to teach students how to use the computer and its programs. MS Office Professional and MS Small Business adds PowerPoint, a program for group visual presentations, and Publisher, a program for news letters and flyers.  Money helps balance the check book, keep track of household bills, and do other financial management tasks. Bill also... adds a link to a study Bible program.

Included with the computer is a dot matrix printer, enough paper to get started and six months of free, dial-up Internet connection. After six months, the Internet connection can be continued for this student for only $5 (now $8.88) per month. ‘We*re always looking for dot matrix printers. These can be used for most school papers and basic work," Blickley said. "Cartridges for inkjet and laser printers cost too much money. Most of the people we work with would find them too expensive. We can re-ink the ribbons for the dot matrix."

Picking up the equipment is a family affair. Bill gives students and parents an hour of instruction in the basics. Parents get a password to monitor kids on line and a brochure about child safety on the information highway published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (

Who benefits from their work? Bill says the list is long and growing. Families who have to tutor at home because their child has

been expelled from school are referred if they can*t afford a computer. The Grand Rapids Public School District included an article in its employee newsletter. Teachers have begun to tell their students and even send a notice home to parents.

"For a "Mom and Pop" operation we are becoming an important link in education for the low income community."

(Some counselors at) the Family Independence Agency refer families. (Some counselors at) the local federal employment and training organization have begun to refer clients that cannot afford but need a computer. Nearly 85% of the new owners are African American, 10% are Hispanic and the others are (Eastern European) immigrants.

Applying is easy. Students take an application form from the front door of the couple*s home, or visit their web site at (any school or public library) or call (616) 452-2683.

Where do the Blickleys find the materials to build the systems? Their answer: "Beg. Borrow, shake the bushes. Some things we buy." Some items are sent by UPS and Fed Ex from friends as far west as California, Nebraska and as far east as New York. In addition, Bill and LaVerne are very determined in their search. They look at yard sales. They take what*s left after auctions at area colleges or after upgrades at businesses.

Wherever God Wills buys and accepts donated computers and software. Materials and financial contributions to the 501 (c) 3 organization are tax deductible. The couple has a wish list:  software such as  Windows* ..., Office* ..., and  Works*... meets most users needs.

"We need good printers to include with the computers that we give," Blickley said. "(Dot matrix) Printers that we can afford to include, (and students can afford to operate) are getting hard to get. Some people still have (these) printers that they are not using since they upgraded their system. We need their printer to be donated to our program.

Anyone interested in donating can call Bill and La Verne at (616) 452-2683.

* The version of this software is nearly the same and compatible with the programs used by students in local schools. 

The Grand Rapids Times has been published weekly since 1957
P.O Box 7258 Grand Rapids, Michigan 49510
Office Address: 2016 Eastern SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49507
Telephone: (616) 245-8737 FAX: (616) 245-1026
Managing Editor and Publisher: Patricia  Pulliam

Grand Rapids Times, May 16, 2003 *