News Archives

Church retirees key in on salvaging computers for students

 


Church retirees key in on salvaging computers for students

Nov. 10, 2004

By John Gordon*

TYLER, Texas (UMNS) — Computers junked by government agencies and schools are being saved from the scrap yard and, thanks to a small church, helping hundreds of students.

A dedicated group of retirees from Cedar Street United Methodist Church in Tyler recycles the computers and gives them to elementary and high school students. Some 500 PCs have been repaired and placed in students’ homes since the high-tech ministry began two years ago.

"We had an opportunity to pick up some salvage computers," says the Rev. Karen Morris, pastor of the northeast Texas church. "And we have always been a group of people that didn’t like to see anything go to waste."

Little goes to waste at Mustard Seed Ministries. Dusty computer cases are stripped of hard drives, video and audio cards, memory chips, power supplies and even screws. The nonprofit ministry also buys new parts needed for repairs.

"Most of the children in this neighborhood, as well as their parents, have never had an opportunity to use a computer, much less own one," Morris says.

"They get a little bit of experience at school," she says, "but most of the time, they really don’t have any contact with computers."

The church is in a downtown neighborhood that’s seen changes in recent years with an influx of Hispanic families.

"They (church members) don’t care who you are or where you come from or anything like that," says 16-year-old Higinio Fernandez, a high school student who lives near the church and received a free computer.

The computer is helping Fernandez toward his dream of becoming a lawyer and judge.

"Now, I don’t have to go that much to the library — which I still do, but not just to use the computer," he says. "I can use mine at home."

Fernandez also became a volunteer helping repair the computers. He is the youngest member of the group. The church has about 100 members. Most are in their 70s and 80s.

The congregation traces its history to a Sunday school class organized in 1887, and its building is a Texas Historical Commission landmark.

Originally planned as a one-time effort to give a computer to every fifth-grader at a nearby elementary school, the program continues to grow. Now the free-computer offer is being extended to students at a local high school.

"Let’s face it: If you’re not computer literate in this day and age, you’re not going very far," church member Tommy Gober says.

The computer recyclers learned the inner workings of CPUs and motherboards by experience and reading books. Now, they work through software conflicts, BIOS setups, monitor calibration and other technical tasks with ease.

Most of the computers were surplus from state agencies. Some sat in warehouses for months before they were turned over to the church.

Those beyond repair go to the workbench of Alvin Jones, known to his fellow volunteers as "Demolition Man." Within minutes, Jones can strip the parts from a computer for use in other machines.

"When I started doing it, I didn’t even know how to turn one on," he says. "But I’m learning a little."

Volunteers say they enjoy helping children. Along the way, they also learn more about themselves.

"Believe it or not, but we really, really miss the workaday world," says Del Shirley, who retired from a vault and security company. "It gives us something to do where we feel necessary."

The biggest challenge for Mustard Seed Ministries is raising enough money to keep up with the demand for the free computers. Each costs about $60 to repair.

The church raises money with bake sales, bazaars and other events. Some of the faster refurbished computers are sold for $100 each, with the money going to build more free machines.

Morris, a former first-grade teacher, offers free computer classes at the church.

"It’s just a great opportunity for churches to reach out in a way that will be a permanent and a lasting influence on the kids. I don’t see any end to it."

But she says the program depends on the senior volunteers.

"It’s all their hours and all the work that they do that make the program hum. They just love to see the kids," she says.

Shirley spends three or four days a week working on the computers. He sees the program’s benefits going in both directions – to the church and the recipients.

"It beats a rocking chair," he says. "What benefit we’re giving the kids, I think we’re getting far more than we’re giving."

*Gordon is a freelance producer and writer in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

First Name:*
Last Name:*
Email:*
ZIP/Postal Code:*
Question:*

*InfoServ ( about ) is a service of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.