Computers put out to pasture are turned into workhorses

April 04, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Armed with a set of tools and stacks of used PCs, a group of area computer enthusiasts is taking a recycle-rather-than-rust approach to old computers.

The Lazarus Project is an effort to repair outdated machines and donate them to nonprofit organizations. It is sponsored by the Central Maryland Microcomputer Users Group and the Washington Area Wheelchair Society, a nonprofit group that loans new and used medical equipment to those in need.

Computer group member Don Bard organized the local effort after learning that the Wheelchair Society was collecting computers to be repaired and donated.

When he visited the group's headquarters in Silver Spring, he discovered that the number of computers needing repair greatly outnumbered the number of volunteers to fix them.

"What I saw was staggering," he said. "There, stacked almost floor to ceiling, in addition to wheelchairs and walkers, were computers, monitors, keyboards and printers. Some of the equipment was old dinosaurs, but many others looked recyclable."

At his group's next meeting, he and Paul Holland, president of theWheelchair Society, introduced the idea for the Lazarus Project to members.

"We pointed out the fantastic opportunity we had to learn more about the inner workings of a PC while at the same time helping many other organizations," Mr. Bard said.

The response by members was "overwhelming," he said. Those involved in the project work in teams of three to repair the computers.

Since December, the group has sponsored two three-hour workshops, which have yielded 37 recycled computers. Usable parts from broken machines are used to fix others.

Some of the groups that have benefited are Cedar Lane school in Columbia; the Woodbourne center, a treatment center for children with emotional problems in Baltimore; and the Hine Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

"We are trying to learn something, and in the process do something good," said George Coletti, a 56-year-old Columbia resident and systems analyst for Westinghouse Corporation.

"People who work with these machines love them, like an auto mechanic with his car. They [old computers] are like the '57 Chevys -- they will get you there," said Michael Alloy of Columbia, a member of the group.

Mr. Bard hopes that eventually other groups will get in on the action. "It doesn't have to be a computer organization," he said. "It can be Boy Scouts, 4-H, or any group who knows something about computers."

The benefits have only begun, he added.

"Once we are in an operational mode, we will go around the nation, perhaps approaching the president and getting some support from the administration. The program can continue to work as long as we have donations and volunteers. So far, it has been a very heartwarming response."

The group meets once a month. Persons interested in the program should call Don Bard at 740-4912, or group president Paul Demmitt at 381-4762.

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