Students Give New Life to Unwanted Computers

Don't tell Santa, but a workshop in Colorado Springs is filled with young people happily hacking electronics to bits.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Don't tell Santa, but a workshop in Colorado Springs is filled with young people happily hacking electronics to bits.

With Christmas carols ringing from the stereo, 18 workers dismantle computers, printers and keyboards to be recycled at the new Waste-Not Recycling center in southeast Colorado Springs.

Thanks to a partnership between the company and Community Intersections, an organization that trains special-needs high school transition students and adults for work force placement, the students learn valuable skills and Waste-Not receives electronic castoffs that are ready for a second life.

Talk of Christmas parties, presents and candy pipes up from the work stations where students hammer casings, pick off keys with screwdrivers and yank out wires.

Jennifer Britstein, 19, the self-described "hyper one," is enthusiastic.


"I like to have fun at work," she said.

Most of the students have graduated from high school but need additional supervision or could use additional schooling before they're ready for mainstream jobs, said Margarita Marquez, the School District 11 coordinator for the program.

"They have different ranges of disability, from autism, Down syndrome and other learning disabilities," Marquez said. "They are able to work with motor skills, take apart (items), use manual tools and problem solving as to where to start and where to end."

Two of the program participants soon will be working part time at Waste-Not as part of job training, Marquez said.

"It's win-win-win," said Waste-Not President Anita Comer. "The community wins, the kids win, our customers win and we win. It's an exciting venture that we're doing."

About half of the 11,000-square-foot building at 2780 Delta Drive is devoted to recycling hundreds of thousands of pounds of electronics, Comer said. The company moved into the space a month ago.

Comer has been in the recycling business for 16 years, beginning in Loveland at her first Waste-Not Recycling facility. The company sets up and carries out recycling programs for businesses, government agencies and schools.

At its northern plant, kids are also put to work to learn job skills through Metro Denver Partners, a mentoring program that pairs at-risk kids with adult volunteers. Waste-Not also employs juvenile offenders who must earn money to pay restitution for crimes, Comer said.

"The kids get an education, they get to see how computers work," she said. "I think it empowers them with knowledge and hopefully that helps them get on a better path."

By recycling in Colorado rather than shipping out to other states or to foreign countries with cheaper labor, Comer says her company has less of an environmental impact and creates more jobs for locals.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News