Helping people compute technology

Tech Council program donates recycled computers to families


Laura Chaney and her 15-year-old granddaughter gazed intently at the computer screen, mesmerized by the way the Microsoft Excel program could add and average numbers.

"See, you just click on that funny looking `E' (Sigma)," Lynn Karr, who directs the Carroll Technology Council, instructed them. "Now, hit enter. You just added those three rows together. Isn't that cool?"

"Oh, my goodness!" Chaney said.

"Now I know how to do math on here," said Megan Jones, Chaney's granddaughter.

Megan, who suffers from bipolar and attention-deficit disorders, has recently realized her math abilities but never had a computer to help solve complex equations.

Yet on a recent evening in the new Carroll County Non-profit Center in Westminster, the Carroll Tech Council remedied that situation for Megan and two other families. They all received recycled computers refurbished by the council's corps of volunteers.

Since Karr joined the Tech Council in January 2005, the CompuKids program has distributed nearly 40 free computers to low-income families and some nonprofits in Carroll County.

In 2004, the project was launched by Joshua Kohn, the council's first president, as a way to disseminate used computer equipment donated by the Carroll County Public Schools.

"When kids see their own computer, they light up," Kohn said at the Tech Council's recent open house.

Carroll Community College donated 30 more used computers to the council Friday. The Arc of Carroll County will receive 10 of those computers for developmentally disabled residents. Five additional computers are scheduled to go to needy families, including several recent immigrants.

The Carroll Technology Council was formed in 2001 in connection with the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce. The council became an independent nonprofit in 2004, with executives and board members that promote technology across a variety of fields, including education, business, health care, agriculture and the arts.

In addition to Chaney and Megan, a divorced father and his son and a Somalian refugee and his daughter received their own desktop models the same night. Just over a month ago, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Westminster brought the Somalian family here from a refugee camp in Kenya.

To outfit the computers with the Windows XP operating system, modems, speakers and the latest Microsoft Office products, Tech Council members volunteer for Saturday workdays, as they did yesterday.

The Carroll County Library system provides the dial-up Internet connection. The Phoenix Project, which aims to provide every Maryland public school student with a computer, covered the cost of the Microsoft software and licensing agreements.

Bobby Keller led the new computer owners in a tutorial the night they received them. He chairs the CompuKids committee and runs KelTech Computer Service in Westminster. Watching the kids and their parents play with their new toys made Keller smile.

"Do you know how to do the old Microsoft, three-finger salute?" Keller asked the recipients. "Ctrl-Alt-Delete? Then click on `Shut Down.' You never just want to turn the bottom button off on these."

At the end of the training session, Keller hauled Chaney's computer out to the parking lot so Karr could drive them home to their Westminster apartment. After suffering several small strokes, Chaney, 53, has been out of work on disability and without a car for almost a year.

"With one of the first computers we gave away, a family rolled it home in a baby carriage," Karr said. "That's my favorite part of the job - to be able to help people."

With assistance from Megan's 16-year-old sister, Chaney had the computer hooked up in their kitchen. Now all they need is a desk and a printer.

For the adults struggling to comprehend the machines, Carroll Community College will offer a free computer course for "those afraid to touch one."

Chaney is slowly overcoming those fears.

"I just really want to learn how to operate the thing basically," said Chaney, who is applying for jobs at area hospitals.

"I know nothing about computers," she said. "I was scared to death of them because I'm just not good with mechanical things. But now I really want to get into it."

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