Ara MamourianPhoto courtesy Ara Mamourian

With some COVID-19 restrictions now back in place, school students across Ontario once again found themselves learning remotely last week. For some families, this meant trying to source computers and devices so that their school-aged children could participate in their online education.

Thanks to the work of a Toronto real estate broker and donations from the community, hundreds of students will be able to connect to the classroom.

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Ara Mamourian, broker and managing partner of RE/MAX Hallmark’s The Spring Team in Riverside, has helped to raise $31,000 towards purchasing laptops for schools in Toronto.

Mamourian first started his laptop initiative back in 2020 during the onset of the pandemic, surfing online to source, buy and donate laptops to those who needed them. A few days ago, as the province moved schools back to virtual learning, Mamourian was able to gather $26,000 in 24 hours for the initiative, an amount that has now grown to $31,000.

Livabl caught up with Mamourian to learn more about how the laptop donations were started and what plans he has next.

This is an edited transcript of that interview.

How did this initiative start? What sparked the conversation that led to this series of donations?

Last April, a client of mine who’s heavily involved as a parent at Nelson Mandela Park Public School told me that kids don’t have access to a device to participate in online learning. It was the first lockdown, so I just started to scour Facebook marketplace and buy laptops from people, then started giving them to people that needed them. A pretty simple, self-funded initiative. Then I found a wholesaler who sold me units at cost, so I bought a bunch and distributed them.

I did that to the tune of about 10 units per month for a year to various people, not just the school. Then, fast forward to about five days ago. Rachel, my client, reached out to me again letting me know that there were still 50 to 60 outstanding device requests from kids. Now, we’re almost a week into this round of online learning, so they’ve already missed out. So I put it on my IG story, “Can anyone help me raise $6K so I can get 60 Chromebooks.”

Well, it wasn’t even 6:30am yet, and one of my people gave me the full $6,000! So I put it out there again, “We got $6K and it’s not even 7am, can we do more?” and BOOM! Requests to donate came flooding. Fast forward 24 hours and I was at $26,000. Then I got another $5,000 so we’re sitting at $31,000 right now.

 

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How many laptops have been donated to students and how much money has been raised to provide these devices? How were you able to determine where laptops were needed most and to which schools?

Since 2020, I’ve delivered 120 self-funded devices and raised enough to buy 310 more, 60 of which are in the hands of kids. The rest are being bought this week. Total $31,000 raised, initial $15,000 or so funded by me personally. The $31,000 was all from friends, colleagues and one random person.

I started giving to Nelson Mandela Park Public School because I learned of a direct need. Then another parent reached out to me about Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy in Thorncliffe and then I just gave randomly to people that reached out. I’m not affiliated with TDSB or any school. If you need a device, reach out and I’ll do my best to get you one.

What is your reaction to this support from the community? Can you tell us more about who has been helping with the donations, and what the reaction has been like from both the donors and recipients of the laptop initiative?

My reaction? Super surprised at my friend’s and colleague’s generosity. I did not expect this at all, but again, I don’t ever ask for much and privately have helped hundreds of people myself without any fuss, so I guess I was surprised to find so many people as generous as I was.

Remember, none of these people are getting a donation receipt. It’s a pure cash outlay for them with no benefit other than helping. That’s pretty special if you ask me. I love my people. The initial $6,000 came from the man who founded the brokerage. TheSpringTeam.ca is registered to Ken McLaughlin of RE/MAX Hallmark. The rest came from agents here and my network on Instagram and Facebook. I don’t have any connection to the recipients, so have no idea how they feel. Hopefully they’re happy.

In a story with the Toronto Star, you mentioned that “In 2022, technology is at the same level as housing. It’s not a luxury.” How do you think the pandemic has impacted or highlighted the difficulties students face with accessing educational resources? How have the laptop donations made a difference to Toronto families?

It’s not about education for me. This all started to bridge the tech gap in online learning, but it’s so much more.

Imagine in 2022 not being exposed to the crypto world, not having access to all of the investment opportunities of the blockchain, not even knowing what any of that is because you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills or eat or learn? It’s devastating to think about when I’m sitting in a house with a billion devices.

From 2022 onward, access to the internet is at the same level as housing — the world is passing you by if you don’t have it and you cannot be successful without it. This pandemic has shifted people online, [and] essentially accelerated the inevitable. Education, social, investing, crypto — the future is not at everyone’s fingertips and that’s sad.

My organization is on a mission to change that. How have they made a difference? Time will tell, but I hope that a kid will get better grades than they’ve ever had. I hope that a kid will discover they love gaming. I hope a kid will discover what people look and sound like all over the world. I hope a kid is able to leverage the tech to create the next massively successful blockchain company. I hope a kid decides to learn about all of the amazing opportunities and choose their own adventure. There’s magic right there.

You are in the process of creating a non-profit to address technological inequity. Can you tell us more about your plans for the non-profit? Do you hope to continue raising funds for more laptops?

We’re currently working with a team of advisors from all over the country to set up the charitable organization. Once it’s named, we’ll register it and launch with quite an impressive board of directors and advisory committee. We’ll be seeking regular funding from the average donor, but also looking to partner with larger institutions to help us with our big annual goal of raising a million dollars in a calendar year.

This organization will not focus on online learning, but will focus on providing devices to those that need it, ensuring they have a way to connect to the internet, then providing resources to help them understand the opportunities that exist in the space. We’ve already partnered with so many great people that are experts in all of this and are excited to dig in and make this real. I have to pinch myself here. I can’t believe this is happening but am so grateful that it is.

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