ComputerCorps is a non-profit organization in Carson City that refurbishes old computers and donates them to needy individuals and organizations. The group’s mission is to help people who are left out of the technology loop because they have no access to computers or training.
It does this by focusing on three areas: the environment, education and entrepreneurship. ComputerCorps helps the environment by refurbishing thousands of computers that would normally have gone to the landfill. Its educational programs provide training, not only to people receiving the computers, but also to the volunteers who do the upgrades. It encourages entrepreneurship by creating a skilled workforce. As Gary Lyon, development director and project manager, pointed out, “The real foundation of economic development is the people we have in our communities.”
ComputerCorps was the brainchild of founder Ron Norton and his wife, Judy. When Norton taught his father-in-law how to use a computer, it helped the older man pull out of a difficult period following the death of his wife. “He got more and more involved and started coming out of his shell,” said Norton. Realizing he could help other seniors feel useful, Norton partnered with Lyon, who has over 25 years’ experience working with computers, and together they expanded on the original idea.
In January 1998, ComputerCorps opened its doors in Carson City and today receives donations of 500 to 1,000 computers and computer-related equipment each month. All the refurbishing work is done without a paid staff. Both Norton and Lyon can’t say enough about the men and women who show up week after week to donate their time and skills. To date, over 1,200 volunteers have logged more than 160,000 hours.
Within a few months of opening, the group had outgrown its Carson City location and eventually moved to a new location east of Carson City on Highway 50. The group has been at its 40,000-square-foot facility for just over three years.
In addition to equipment, ComputerCorps receives donations and grants from a number of sources, including individuals, businesses, nonprofit foundations and government agencies. Norton believes people are eager to help because ComputerCorps is uniquely positioned to enable public and private entities to participate in the communities they serve.
Some of the ComputerCorps success stories are based on simple cases of giving people a sense of being needed. One volunteer, Charlie, now has a new sense of purpose in keeping the organization’s facilities clean and swept, while others learn marketable skills such as running the retail shop ComputerCorps operates to help fund the operation.
Lyon thinks he has the best job in the world. He identifies the community’s needs and finds ways to address them. Plans for the future include installing a computer center at a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence in the Silver Springs community east of Carson City, providing bilingual computer skills classes, and opening Technology Learning Centers (TLCs). The first of four TLCs is scheduled to open in Virginia City in 2004. It will include a program to introduce Virginia City youth to the business world. “The combination of bringing technology plus business skills will also allow us to integrate these kids into the economic fabric of Virginia City,” said Lyon.
Norton and Lyon describe themselves as “techno geeks” who just want to help address some of the problems they see in their community. They intend to create models of some of their initiatives so people in other communities can implement similar programs. As Lyon said, “Fundamentally, human value has purpose here.” He and Norton have created an environment where this philosophy is a reality.
To contact ComputerCorps, call 775-883-2323.