Originally published April 2001, Ithaca Times
Word Count: 797
By Tom M. Paolangeli
Enter through a plain white door bearing the cryptic traces of painted over letters: “Mechanical All Stars.” Instantly you’re surrounded by a sea of beige plastic and gray metal. Eight foot tall steel shelves are crammed with computer parts: keyboards, monitors, hard drives. Thread your way through this techno-packrat’s maze of cast off components, and eventually you’ll find Marty Schreiber, more than a touch of gray in his close-cropped beard, crouched down in earnest conversation with a baggy-clothed teenager. In front of them a disemboweled, recalcitrant computer, whirs and clicks.
“All right,” Schreiber says, ”That hard drive is shot. Replace it.”
Welcome to the Computer All Stars, an after school program run by the Ithaca Youth Bureau. The 12 to 19 year-old All Stars take donated computers, refurbish them, and send them back out into the community. They specifically target families with school aged kids who otherwise would not be able to afford a computer. Schreiber is the Program Coordinator.
“The Computer All Stars were organized in 1998,” Schreiber said. “I took over from Bill Altman who ran “Kid Build,” a once a year event to build computers. I decided to try and do it all the time. Last year we repaired and sent out about 75 computers. My goal this year is to exceed 100.”
Donated computers come from all over.
“Cornell, local businesses, and individuals have sent us stuff. We’ve even had some come from Wisconsin. The Department of Agriculture out there somehow got my number and sent me about 50 units.”
Schreiber didn’t set out to be a recycled computer guru. He originally came to the Youth Bureau to run the “Mechanical All Stars,” a program that taught teens basic automotive repair and maintenance.
“I come from a strong automotive background. I ran my own business for a number of years up in Enfield.”
But interest and funding for the Mechanical All Stars was drying up, so he began to concentrate on the computer program. A big assist came from the Cornell-Ithaca Partnership.
“They’ve taken my program under their wing. They’re helping me out with the Cornell connection, grants, grantwriting. About a year ago some HUD money became available, to try and get electronics and communication equipment to the underserved parts of town. One of the ways to do this is through our program.”
Tompkins County Solid Waste Management has also taken an interest in the program. They help the All Stars recycle any parts worn beyond redemption, thus keeping potential environmental hazards out of the landfill.
Right now about a dozen kids come in each week to work on the computers. Participants learn how to repair and upgrade machines, and they also get to fix up and keep a computer for themselves.
All Star Ryan Losinger, a ninth grader from Dryden, has been coming down to the Youth Bureau since January.
“I wanted to learn more about computers. I’m pretty good with software, but I wanted to know more about hardware.”
What does Losinger like most about the program?
“There’s a real feeling of satisfaction, because we get to help people around the community who otherwise couldn’t afford computers.”
And what does he like least?
“The frustration when things don’t go right. Some of the computers have bugs in ‘em. But overall, I love it. I come every day I can.”
Larry is a 14 year-old who’s family recently received one of the refurbished computers, the first in their household. He put it to use immediately.
“It’s really great,” Larry enthused. “I’m doing my homework on it, and I really like that I can listen to CD’s on it at the same time. I wish it had a modem, though, so I could get on the Internet.”
Schreiber understands. “That’s one of my frustrations. What I’m giving out isn’t equitable. Some are really good quality computers, some a little less. I’d like them all to go out with CD ROMs, and be Internet capable. My budget doesn’t allow it yet. But we do include a printer with every package, so that kids can do their homework.”
Schreiber is optimistic about the future of the program.
“I want to reach more people. I’d like a larger place to operate out of, more apprenticeships, and to get more into the arts and crafts end of it in the recycling of components. There are a lot of neat pieces that come out of the computers. We’ve made wind chimes, sculptures. I’d also like to have a student-run store that could sell some of the surplus equipment and crafts. It could be a really good entrepreneurial learning experience. But my more immediate goal is to get a higher quality of donations.”
If you’re interested in donating a computer, or becoming an All Star, call Schreiber at 273-8364.