Written by John Owens, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 27 December 2013 00:00
Where do laptop computers come from? China? Korea? Cupertino, Calif.?
For thousands of needy people around Long Island, their computers come from Jon Zimmerman’s garage.
“I started giving equipment away because I felt bad that some kids could access the internet and some couldn’t,” said Zimmerman, who runs the group Comp4Kids.
This 501(c)3 charity gets old computers, refurbishes them, and then distributes them free to organizations and schools, so that people who would otherwise be computerless can do everything that most of us take for granted.
“You can look at a PowerPoint and write a report for school,” said Zimmerman. “You now have equal access to the internet.”
It started nearly a decade ago, when Zimmerman found himself with a lot of idle computer equipment left over from his shuttered Wall Street brokerage firm. He had moved on to education (for the past 11 years, he’s been a middle school science teacher in Great Neck), and once he started giving away computers, he was hooked.
Initially, it was desktops with big, CRT displays that came in as schools and companies upgraded their hardware.
“Sean Adcroft, the tech director at Manhasset public schools, gave me my first break, donating 100 or so desktops at a time for three years in a row,” said Zimmerman. “A law firm delivered 300 desktops.”
He stuffed them into his garage, and with special software, wiped all of the data and programs off the hard drives, then installed fresh software.
“I would call up organizations and offer them computers for free,” Zimmerman recalls. “They thought it was a scam. Who gives out free computers?”
Since then, desktops have been replaced by laptops, and Zimmerman and Comp4Kids have become well known among cash-strapped school districts and non-profits that both use the units and distribute them to individuals. Last week alone, he provided 600 laptops to organizations on Long Island: 30 for Southampton schools, 25 for Adventures in Learning, 40 for Sachem schools, and so on.
“The Valley Stream UFSD 13 has received over 300 laptops thanks to Comp4Kids. They have really helped us,” said Superintendent of Schools Adrienne Robb-Fund.
Mike Comanda, superintendent of Greenport Schools, is a similar fan.
“I think it is accurate to say that Comp4Kids has been one of the cornerstones to our success,” he said.
“Other than getting married and having children, this is the single most important thing I have done in my life,” said the 53-year-old, who lives in Port Washington with his wife, Dorothy, and three children (Alex, 18, Andie, 17, and Robert, 13).
While his impact is big, Zimmerman’s operation remains bootstrap. Corporations hear of his work, and when they upgrade their laptops, they bring them to Zimmerman.
“I get 1,000 at a time, two or three times a year,” he said.
He also gets smaller shipments, as well as computers from individuals (remember, that’s a tax deduction). And he’s always looking for more.
In his garage, Zimmerman, his kids and other volunteers check each computer, fix what they can, wipe the hard drive clean, and even get into esoteric computer surgery when necessary.
“Keith at Computer Port taught me everything I know,” Zimmerman said of Keith Bresowski, a well-known computer-repair expert in Port Washington.
Comp4Kids distributed nearly 5,000 computers this year, and could hit 6,000 in 2014, said Zimmerman, who credits his time-management skills for his ability to both teach and process computers.
“I get great satisfaction from this,” said Zimmerman. “In life, you have to find something you are good at. I am good at computers and running a business.”
For details on contributing computers, go to www.comp4kids.org