Simputer plugs in youth

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Reared in a rural village in central India, Roger Deora could not reap the benefits of technology.

“If there’s no electricity, how can one study,” Deora says.

Now, after a travel-industry career in New York and Charlotte, Deora aims to use technology to give low-income children and young adults a boost.

“Charity starts at home,” says Deora, who has lived in Charlotte since 1996, most recently managing an office for American Fair Credit.

“There are a lot of children in this city who do not have computers at home because their parents cannot afford it,” he says.

Simputer (USA), a nonprofit he launched in his home last July, solicits used computers, repairs and refurbishes them and donates them to children who need them.

The nonprofit also enlists young adults who are trained in computer repair but cannot find jobs, and puts them to work as volunteers to fix and upgrade the computers.

Simputer, which set up shop in March in a 3,000-square-foot warehouse it rents in North Charlotte, asks organizations and individuals to donate computers, which it tests and retools with new hardware and software.

The group so far has received about 200 computers, including 40 from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.

The group recycles about 10 computers a week, up from three a week initially, and hopes soon to increase its output to 15 a week.

Simputer has purchased about 100 Microsoft operating systems at a deep discount through CompuMentor, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

The group also retooled about 25 cell phones donated by John Deere, which also contributed office furniture, and has donated the phones to domestic-violence survivors.

Recruiting computer-savvy students from Brooke Stone College of Business and Tech Skills to fix its donated computers, Simputer gives them the experience they need to find jobs, Deora says.

Other volunteers, who answer phones and handle other administrative chores, work for Simputer through arrangements with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Senior Centers and RSVP.

To find youngsters who need computers, Simputer posts flyers in public libraries and meets with neighborhood groups.

Teaming up with the Connecticut-based National Cristina Foundation, which collects computers and donates them to nonprofits, Simputer also has supplied computers to the Urban League of Central Carolinas.

Deora, who has applied to local foundations and corporations for grants, says Simputer so far has operated on contributions from family and friends.

“We need help,” he says, including computers, volunteers and more warehouse space.

With 5,000 square feet of space, Simputer could recycle 125 computers a month and, with corporate or foundation support, could do even more, Deora says.

“If you have an old computer, for you it’s trash,” he says. “For us, it’s a great thing because we can turn it around and give it to a kid who doesn’t have a computer, and in the process teach someone how to fix it.”

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