Isn't It A Shame
Every day you and I make decisions to discard functioning devices for all sorts of reasons. Oftentimes I wonder if there isn't some way to pass on older, but workable devices to others. Lots of organizations run thrift shops that take in donations and sell them. But who operates a collection, refurbishment, and redistribution operation that charges nothing?
The office at Washington Apple Pi gets calls all the time from families and schools that are bailing out of Apple II and Macintosh equipment that no longer serves their needs. It seems a shame to us that these very functional machines might end up in a landfill or languish in some thrift shop. There must be a way to pass on to a new generation of people who cannot afford to purchase a computer, equipment that has knowledge to impart and years of life still in it. Why can't Washington Apple Pi organize such an effort? We can. We did. And this is the story of what happened.
In The Beginning
What started out two years ago as a small scale redistribution of unwanted computers from member families to area religious institutions, shelters, and local families grew into an acceptance by WAP of whole collections of Apple II series computers, peripherals and software from area schools. Word of mouth recommendations just could not relocate that many units.
We began to search for school systems that would be interested in these machines and would use them if available. We found three schools in way south Virginia who accepted our offer. We placed 15 Apple II set-ups each in two public and one charter school. But still we searched for a way to donate a seriously large block of computers in one area.
We took a hundred Apple IIs
With just a hundred Apple IIs
Now can't cha just see them a-walkin' 'round and
People, let me tell ya what we did
* Title: A Hundred Pounds Of Clay
Original lyrics ©, 1961 by Bob Elgin, Luther Dixon, and Kay Roger
West Virginia Calls
We offered 50 machines to the state of West Virginia. Senator Robert C. Byrd and his staff helped us find the people within the state government who might be willing to take them. The Department of Education was not interested for the public schools, but the state was interested in them for another program. West Virginia has a state-wide Head Start style program which has no funding for computers. The director at each site was notified of our offer, and wow! When we stopped taking calls, we were looking at requests totaling over 200 computer sets. Washington Apple Pi has never worked through that size of a placement. But, we were willing to try.
Our Learning Curve
We knew what had to happen if this was to be something other than a shift of tonnage from one location to another. Too often we have visited schools where well meaning companies have donated their surplus computers in the name of education, or a tax write-off, or being socially responsible. Unfortunately, in way too many cases, none of that occurred. The schools found themselves with inoperable and cannibalized machines; they had no educational software to run on them; and no one to tell them what to do to make "it" happen. If there is no money for the computers, where do people think the money is coming from to pay for acquisition of the missing parts, software or basic training. We have seen piles of 2, 3, and 486 machines languish for those reasons.
Not on Our Watch
When you call the Pi office offering your Apple II or Macintosh computer, we tell you to bring everything: computer, cables, software, manuals, etc. We don't promise that your computer, as delivered, will be found in some school. Depending on lots of variables, we can usually make two working units out of every three donated. That is because the Pi does not donate crippled units, or ones missing hardware, or software. We don't even donate computers missing keycaps! An Apple II or Macintosh donated to an organization in the name of the members of Washington Apple Pi is complete down to the introductory disks that came with that computer -- period. WAP is not in the tonnage shifting business.
But, to assemble just 130 complete sets means acquiring dozens more for parts, stumbling over all of them until all sets are complete and then delivering all that equipment damage free. And this time, the address is not down the street from us, or around the bend. It is 13 different locations in West Virginia. Fortunately, three schools elected to come to our offices to pick up their allocations. In addition, there is one DC public school that is getting a set.
We got the heads of the other West Virginia day care facilities to agree to meet us at a central location -- the town of Ronceverte. See if you can find it. I'll give you a hint. Think of a nice place to hide Congress in case of a nuclear war and you are in the general area, sort of.
Well, let's see. To get ready, you first apply many volunteer hours into testing and repairing all that stuff. Then you try to figure out how to crate 100 Apple IIe and IIc computers, 105 monitors, 125 disk drives, 40 printers, cables, cords, joysticks, instruction kits, software, manuals, and all those boxes of pin-fed paper you gave us once upon a time.
Then you get a big truck, or in our case one large trailer and a truck. Add one expert in packing theatrical road shows to place all that stuff in each vehicle in such a fashion that the loads won't shift and break something, and you are ready to travel--to Ronceverte. Don't worry, they are not convinced you are coming. After all, they have been promised things before that never appeared; why should we be different? Well, we are! And, once they got over the shock of hearing from our office manager that we would be arriving on a certain date, arrangements were made for the other day care providers to pick up their share of the equipment.
Over The Blue Ridge
The trip itself was uneventful. We waved at the tall spire atop the Homestead (hint, hint), chugged up mountain roads, and raced down the other sides until we arrived at the turnoff to the town of Ronceverte. We discovered that there are two clues about living this far out. The bigger the Wal-Mart, the smaller the community. We saw two "Super" Wal-Marts located at two different intersections, neither of which looked like it needed a crossing guard. The second clue was when we stopped at a local drug store for a drink. The sign on the door read: "Please Do Not Carry A Gun In Here". Oh, and the drug store is next to Blue Grass Gas. They sell LP gas in large cylinders.
The day care center that hosted us was located on the main street of the town of Ronceverte. Main street runs for four blocks. One side is a branch off the main CSX line. There is a classical 1900s station and a long passenger platform, but passenger trains stopped coming too many years ago. Now all that rumbles along Main Street are unitary coal trains. Across from the tracks are the shops of Ronceverte. You will find two barber shops, a "collectibles" store, a cabinet maker in the former corner Rexall Drug Store [the classic caticorner Rexall sign still hangs there], a bar, and the day care center. The other stores are vacant. The center staff is long on desire and short on equipment. You and your neighbors throw away more kids stuff than this center has for assets. The very few folks who walked by stared as we unloaded the 100 computers, monitors, disk drives, and accessories. The sight was as unreal to them as it was for the kids inside who also could not believe what was happening. The younger ones picked up on the excitement that emanated from the older children.
We set-up two computers: one with a Broderbund program called Play Room for the younger children, and one called Think Quick from the Learning Company on the other. It was not long before it was SRO beside each of the strangers who brought all this stuff to their daytime home. Just think back to the first time you held a joystick, much less mastered it. Remember again the pleasure you got from realizing that you could control that character on the screen by moving the control stick. It is OK to smile -- because now you know what we saw in the faces of children and maybe just a touch of how they felt.
Are you getting some sense of the pleasure you brought these kids? Good. Just because you can afford a more sophisticated computer, does not diminish the capabilities of your older equipment -- especially in the hands of kids who would not otherwise have that opportunity. Your support of Washington Apple Pi has brought new life to those venerable computers and the opportunity for a new generation of kids to experience the power to be their best. Good for you!
This extensive undertaking, while well worth it, was not without costs. Think of the project as a milk stool. Two of the legs: need and assets are in abundance. It is the third leg, support resources to make it happen, that is the hardest to assemble. This project consumed scarce Washington Apple Pi resources: considerable volunteer time, lots of storage space, and scarce dollars. New sources for that third leg need to be found if we are to undertake another project on this scale. Grants, a different working relationship among the three component: donors--recipients--and ourselves, or additional outside support, will make it possible for me to again tell ya what we did with another "a hundred Apple IIs."
Revised June 30, 1999 Lawrence I. Charters
Washington Apple Pi