Computer coop raises hope, lowers waste

At the Cincinnati Computer Cooperative (C3), an entire wall overflows with thank-you cards, letters and print-outs of emails.

The notes of gratitude are from customers who have purchased quality, recycled computers provided by the local nonprofit, which receives donations from area businesses and individuals.

C3 has been improving the computer-to-student ratio in schools and the community for almost a decade and continues to grow.

"For most, it's hard to imagine life without a computer," says Daniel Meek, C3's coordinator. "These people have heard about them for years, but this is the first time that they've used one."

The idea for computer recycling started with Peg Fischer, the principal of St. Thomas More School, and her husband, Walt. During her research on the link between students' success in school and computer use, Fischer found that students with access to computers generally have better grade point averages than those who don't.

From there, the couple contacted Microsoft to ask for discounted versions of computers and began refurbishing donated systems for the community.

The low-budget program operates only on Wednesdays and Saturdays - that is when computers are purchased or donated at the 49 Novner Drive location.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 computers are recycled each year by the organization, Meek says. A steady flow of donations allows for 10 to 20 computers to be refurbished each week.

Each computer is wiped clean, and the hard drive is destroyed so a new operating system can be put in its place.

The majority of C3's support comes from its volunteers - a plethora of professionals, students and retirees. There are a several hundred on and off, but nearly 45 volunteers help on a weekly-to-monthly basis.

And some of the customers find very personal ways to return the favor.

"Some of the people who buy our computers - after they're a little more on their feet and life works out for them - will actually volunteer," Meek says. "They were touched so much that they want to give back."

Every Saturday morning, C3 volunteers lead workshops on how to use the computers, starting with the basics - basic pointing and clicking, using web browsers and Internet dos and don'ts.

As the only organization in the Cincinnati area that recycles computers for the community and sells them at affordable prices, C3 remains in demand and the Fischers hope to expand to a second location.

Do Good:

Volunteer. Help refurbish a donated computer or teach your neighbor how to use the Internet.

Add to the inventory. Donate an old, unused computer to C3.

Become C3's friend. On Facebook, where else?

By Jayna Barker

Photo courtesy C3
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