WASHINGTON – The outmoded computer printer writes only in black and white, prints excruciatingly slowly and emits a loud, high-pitched noise.
But Courtney Riddick, 8, a student at Brent Elementary School in Southeast Washington, was gleeful when using the machine to print her latest artwork – a picture of the van that a Maryland-based organization used to bring donated computer equipment to her school.
“I think it will really help the school,” said the third- grader, who likes to use computers for writing and playing word games.
The computers came from the Lazarus Foundation of Columbia, which takes old computers people and corporations no longer need, upgrades them and gives them to schools and charities. Foundation volunteers came to the Capitol on Wednesday to demonstrate how they turn outdated equipment into children’s learning tools.
“A lot of good technology, if we don’t do this, is either going to stay in the closet or go in the trash,” said Lazarus founder Don Bard of Columbia. “With a minimal amount of effort, they can be resurrected, refurbished and put into the hands of a good organization.”
Since its inception in 1992, Lazarus has donated about 1,700 computers to several hundred organizations, most of them in the Baltimore-Washington area, Bard said. AIDS charities, senior centers, anti-poverty organizations and schools are among the groups that have received recycled computers.
When Lazarus obtains the computers, volunteers test equipment for defects. If units do not work, volunteers mix and match working parts from different systems until they create a working model.
“These aren’t computers that are sold at Best Buy,” said Bill Flahive, 56, a database specialist from Laurel who volunteers for Lazarus. “These may have been sold a year, a year and a half ago. They’re very serviceable, fast computers.”
Donors are taking advantage of a new federal tax credit for donated computer equipment. Bard lobbied Wednesday for an extension of that tax break when it expires in 2001.
Microsoft Corp. has agreed to provide Lazarus with free software for its computers.
Lazarus does not accept computers that are too old and some non-functional equipment, and takes care to match computers with the specific needs of the new users, Bard said.
“If we give a computer that doesn’t meet their needs, it will collect dust in a closet,” he said.
Lazarus offers only donated equipment to the charities free of charge; it charges for specially requested equipment, Bard said.
During the gathering Wednesday, volunteers prepared computers for donation to Washington public schools with several lawmakers looking on.
“It puts computers in the hands of students who normally do not have access to computers,” said James Moore, Brent Elementary’s computer coordinator. “Let’s hope this will be just one of many (donations).”
Brent receives grants from the U.S. Department of Education to buy some computers. But the grant process is time-consuming, while Lazarus will put computers at students’ fingers quickly, Moore said.
Bard, 53, who took time off from his 25th wedding anniversary for the demonstration, started repairing computers for charities after being laid off during cutbacks in the National Endowment for the Arts, according to his wife, Judy.
It did not take long for potential donors and recipients of computers to start calling him day and night.
“Five years ago, I hadn’t even opened a computer,” said Don Bard, now a consultant for the Transportation Department. “Now, I’m a resident expert.”