Story and Photography By Carolyn Bowers
A team of seven Brunswick County volunteers provides refurbished computers to Brunswick County students in need — nearly one thousand of them so far.
Sometime during the 2013–14 school year, a lucky Brunswick County student will be given the 1,000th computer that has been reconditioned by the Computers for Kids gang. This is a diverse group of highly technical people with one common goal: to provide a free computer to every Brunswick County student whose family cannot afford to buy one. Each reconditioned computer is fully loaded with an updated operating system, a virus protection program and OpenOffice, which is an analog to MS Office available for free download off the Internet.
The Computers for Kids gang proves that with a little luck and a lot of perseverance almost any obstacle can be overcome. Here’s how it started.
In 2005 Jayne Matthews, then director of Brunswick County Volunteer Center, asked board member and webmaster Bruce Maxwell if he could find a computer for a student who could not attend school due to a health problem. He did. Pretty soon there was another request, and once again he was able to come up with a computer. It was then that both he and Matthews realized there was a need for computers that went far beyond serving kids who were forced to stay home from school. There were children whose families simply didn’t have the resources to buy computers, so Matthews and Maxwell resolved to do something about that.
Later that year Matthews secured a $2,000 grant from ATMC to get the project off the ground. However, as Maxwell puts it, “At that time we had no space and no computers to work on.” Matthews solved the space problem by going to Jerry Thrift, who was vice president of operations at Brunswick Community College, and persuading him to donate space at the college.
Initially Computers for Kids was located at BCC’s Leland campus, then they moved to a vacant building in Southport and finally to the main campus in Bolivia. But BCC kept growing and needed its space, so in 2011 Computers for Kids was uprooted for the third time. This time Matthews went to Marty Lawing, then Brunswick County manager, who found space for them in Building F at the government complex in Bolivia, where they are today.
During those early years, they got another lucky break. One of the first people to join the Computers for Kids effort was Maxwell’s friend Len Trizinsky. At the time, Trizinsky was working at a distribution center for a mail-order catalogue business in Wilmington. Just when the Computer for Kids gang was struggling with how to get old computers that they could recondition, the distribution center closed down and Trizinsky was able to negotiate for almost 200 computers. The problem was what to do with them since they had no space. Again, the timing was perfect. Trizinsky and Maxwell, both St. James residents, knew that the St. James Service Club rents a couple of warehouses to store the items they collect for their annual Flea Market fundraiser in April. They persuaded the Service Club to let them use their warehouses until the Flea Market volunteers needed them back for storage space.
Maxwell says they get most of their computers now from the county and businesses when they upgrade their computers. When stores and factories shut down they also donate their computers.
“Every once in a while, we find a computer on our porch,” says Bruce, “and we say the computer gods visited us again.”
Donating computers is a much better alternative to storing them until recycle day comes along and lugging them all to a collection site.
One question almost everybody asks is, “Is it safe? What happens to the personal information that is on my hard drive?” No need to worry. The Computers for Kids gang totally wipes out the hard drive in a way that we amateurs have no idea how to do. If the computer won’t boot up, they remove the hard drive and try it in another computer. If they still can’t read it, then they take a sledge hammer to the hard drive, smash the thing and salvage the computer’s other working parts.
The second most popular question is, “Can I take the donation off my taxes?” Yes, you can. Last February Computers for Kids partnered with Waves4K.I.D.S., a nonprofit 50l(c)3 organization, and under that partnership the nonprofit, tax-deductible designation extends to Computers for Kids as well.
And the third question is, “How can I help?” The gang needs computers (laptops or desktops) with a Windows operating system of “XP” or later. And they also need flat-screen monitors (no CRT monitors), keyboards, mice, power cords and flash drives. They cannot use printers because the cost of the printer cartridges is too much for the students to incur. So each fully stocked computer comes with a flash drive so the student can save his or her work and print it out the next day at school.
All computers are requested by teachers, guidance counselors or social workers through the school system. The computers are given directly to the schools, so the gang is not aware of the names of any recipients.
The gang now has seven members, including Morgan Hartsell, a student at Brunswick County Early College High School. Although as a student she is required to put in 10 volunteer hours, she says it’s really about more than that.
“I truly enjoy that feeling of knowing I’ve helped somebody and that I’ve made someone’s life a little easier,” Hartsell says.
This program not only fulfills that goal, but also is in line with her career aspirations of being on the business side of the consumer electronics industry. And it will certainly look good on her resume.
In addition to Maxwell, Trizinsky and Hartsell, the group consists of Ron Batleman, Glenn Marshall, Ed McCarron and Matt Wolf, who is vice-president of their partnering organization, WAVES4K.I.D.S.
The gang admits that along with doing something so worthwhile, another great benefit of being a part of Computers for Kids is the camaraderie they share each Wednesday and Thursday morning when the group gets together.
“This is probably, other than my family, the highest priority in my life,” says Maxwell. They sound like an old boys’ club, with a young boys’ sense of energy and enthusiasm.
And they know they are making a difference. Batleman tells the story of when he was waiting in a doctor’s office one day and overheard the receptionist ask one of the patients how her son was doing in school. The woman said, “Oh, he is doing so much better. Ever since the school gave him a computer, his grades have improved tremendously.” Since the only place schools get free computers is from Computers for Kids, Batleman knew it was one of theirs that had made such a big difference in the life of that young boy.
Donate to Computers for Kids
Donations of either equipment or cash are most welcome. You can take your equipment to Building F in the Government complex in Bolivia on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Checks may be made out to “Brunswick County Computers for Kids” and mailed to
P.O. Box 249, Bolivia, NC 28422.
All donations go toward providing the equipment and necessary accessories for the kids.
Computers for Kids has no overhead; the office space is free and all utilities are absorbed by the county. Their only expense is purchased items, such as video cards, hard drives, monitors, flash drives, etc.