Grahamtastic Connection Is Maybe the Best Reason Ever to Donate a Computer

In the first of a five-part series sponsored by Toyota's 100 Cars for Good program, we visit an organization that brings much-needed technology to ailing children.
Oct 25, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Children who are diagnosed with cancer often feel isolated from their own worlds. The treatment used to save them frequently keeps them out of school, away from their friends, and in a routine of hospital stays and doctors visits.

For these kids, technology serves as a crucial link to the outside world, allowing them to virtually visit their classrooms and feel connected to friends and family.

Furnishing that technology is the goal of Grahamtastic Connection, a nonprofit that provides laptops, tablets and Internet access to children with serious illnesses.

Started by Leslie Morissette, the organization is named after her young son, Graham, who succumbed to childhood leukemia in 1997. While supporting him through his inpatient stays, Morissette became acutely aware of how online technology could benefit other children like Graham who were undergoing treatment.

"After I lost my son, I went on a local radio station and talked about computers and dial-up Internet and about getting that available to families," she says. "I started to ask folks if they could donate, and I started placing those computers in the clinics and in the hands of children."

Since its inception 15 years ago, Grahamtastic Connection has grown into a nationwide nonprofit that's helped thousands of children virtually connect with their schools, families and friends.

While her first priority is to provide easy access to education, Morissette says the laptops and tablets also provide kids with an emotional outlet. "Families and children who are diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses are so isolated from their worlds...so we make sure they have that social connection, that emotional connection right at their fingertips."

But as is the case with most nonprofits, the demand for its help often exceeds its resources, and when that happens, it falls on Morissette to come up with a creative solution.

Up until last year for instance, she was using her personal car—a 12-year-old gas-guzzler that frequently broke down—to drive across New England, dropping off and picking up computer equipment. Without the funds to purchase a new vehicle, Morissette entered Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program—an online contest where Facebook users vote for the nonprofits they believe should win a new car.

Rallying the children and parents who have benefitted from Grahamtastic, Morissette was able to garner enough votes to win a brand-new Toyota Highlander. "We know that the families we've supported over the years helped us win this vehicle," Morissette says. "And then they felt good because it gave them the opportunity to give back...When we found out we won, everybody burst out crying."

The organization still faces challenges, of course. The high-speed Internet access required to run webcams and visit most websites is expensive, especially for families coping with a sick child, so Grahamtastic regularly fundraises to meet those costs. And though the nonprofit has a nationwide reach and accepts donations of gently used equipment, it still receives more requests for laptops and tablets than it can meet.

But for Morissette, who gave up her career as an art director to run her nonprofit full time, these obstacles don't make her any less enthusiastic about her work. "We love what we do," she says. "And I’m here 24/7."

If you’d like to help Grahamtastic Connection provide online technology to the children who need it, visit their website.

And to find out more about Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good Program, which is running now through November 19, visit the campaign's Facebook page, and discover other nonprofits that need your vote.

This post is sponsored by Toyota's philanthropy program 100 Cars for Good. Starting October 1 and ending November 19, do your own good deed by voting for your favorite organizations and causes on the 100 Cars for Good Facebook App.