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Computer Corps refurbishes old computers, helps narrow the ‘techno-gap’

by Nancy Hamlett

Based on the premise that no one should be without a computer, Ron Norton and Judy Feaster formed Computer Corps located in Carson City.

Norton and Feaster conceived the idea of a volunteer-based non-profit organization more than eight years ago while they were still living in southern California.

“We saw a void between those who have and don’t have technology, and we wanted to create a way to fill that void,” said Norton.

Norton calls the disparity “techno-gap,” and he thinks this gulf can dramatically affect our culture.

“In three years, 75 percent of all communications will be done electronically,” said Norton. “Those who don’t have computers, or are afraid of them, will be left behind.”

Computer Corps works with businesses, organizations and individuals to obtain donations of outdated or non-working computers and components and then refurbishes the unit so that the under-served in the community may have them. In addition to individuals, Computer Corps places computers with non-profit organizations, schools, and churches.

The organization is staffed totally by volunteers and focuses on rural communities. Minden Elementary School and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California are just two of the recipients of computers. Computers Corps has also placed computers with the Douglas County Recreation Department for after-school programs.

Norton said that Computer Corps has sent computers to destinations as far away as Elko and Lee Vining, Calif.

“Wherever there is a need, we try to fill it,” said Norton. “Through our programs we hope to bring the advantages of technology to as many people as possible.”

– Work incentives. Computer Corps entices volunteers by offering work incentive programs.

Volunteers can earn credits toward computers of their own.

Larry Booth volunteers at Computer Corps. After 29 years working as a main frame programmer for Allstate Insurance, he spends a portion of every day at Computer Corps.

“It’s a win-win situation for me,” said Booth. “I get the components I need by volunteering, and I donate my time back to Computer Corps. As a volunteer, I am able to keep up with technology – plus keep active.”

Computer Corps also wants to eliminate “techno-fear.”

“Most of the senior population is without technology, and they are prime examples of techno-fear,” said Feaster. “They know very little, if anything, about computers, but they can volunteer time and take classes, and they will walk away with a computer of their own.”

Feaster is quick to point out that volunteers don’t need to know about computers to donate their time.

“In addition to technical help, we need people that have administrative skills as well as the handy-man type that can help with our facility,” said Feaster. “Painters, laborers, secretaries or someone to answer the phones – there are hundreds of places where volunteers can help.”

Computer Corps opened its door just one year ago, and in the first eight months of operations, it placed more than 200 computer systems back in the community, provided more than 1,000 hours of training to volunteers and individuals and has kept more than 1,000 computers out of landfills.

“It usually takes two or three broken computers to put together a working unit,” said Booth. The remaining parts are recycled.

Douglas County-based Teens with a Future recently donated a Saturday to Computer Corps, and Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School students will spend a day at the facility in March.

“They spend an hour on computer hardware training and orientation,” said Fester. “Then they are allowed to dismantle computers. Usually they didn’t want to break for lunch. They want to get back to the fun.”

– National level. Norton and Feaster have goals of taking Computer Corps to a national level by placing chapters throughout the country.

“But we have to make it work here first,” said Norton.

Norton also said that Computer Corps relies on grants and donations to keep the program alive.

“We are desperate for funding to continue with our growth,” said Norton. “We have outgrown our space, and luckily the State of Nevada donated some warehouse space to us, but we are going to outgrow that in a relatively short period of time.”

If you have a computer or time or money to donate, or if you want to learn more about the different programs that Computer Corps offers, the phone number is 882-8787. Computer Corps is located at 4681 Morgan Mill Road in Carson City.