Project puts rebuilt tech into new hands

You can probably label this a ‘by the way’ project.

City of London fire inspector Colin Toth is friends with Western’s manager of fire safety Frank Faroni. With Western in Toth’s coverage area, the pair talk regularly about work. But a simple ‘by the way’ conversation has now led to the start of Project Comp-U-Give, a program matching up community members with refurbished computer systems.

“I was doing this on my own a year and a half ago, me and my family, and we’ve given away 10 computers,” said Toth, a former IT technician. “We were taking computers in, but it was going slow and I wanted to get more traction, so I spoke to Frank. With his connections, he pulled some strings on his end and Western came on board with computers, monitors, towers, cables … it was great.”

Faroni said normal practice at Western is for Information Technology Services (ITS) to punch holes in older hard drives so re-use is impossible. But after leaping a few hurdles, and with senior administration’s approval, the word went out and the collection began.

“He (Colin) works on campus; that’s his area,” Faroni said. “I didn’t even know he did this, but through casual conversation, it came up between us. At Western, we go through bins of computers, so I thought maybe there’s a possibility, if we get approval … Who knows?”

Four months later, the pair had six fully operational computers, wiped clean by Western and reloaded with software by Toth, which were donated to families through the Salvation Army this month.

There was no incentive for this project beyond the ability to help the local community

“I just felt it’s something to do to give back. It feels good; it’s just nice to help,” said Toth, adding he’d love to see similar projects take off in other university communities. “We want to do a lot more. I want this idea to go across southwestern Ontario. It’s for the betterment of your local community.”

For Sherry Rowland, program director at the Salvation Army (London Village), it was an easy ‘yes’ when approached by Toth.

“We have families who have access to our programs here that we know would benefit tremendously from something like this. We spread the word and started to get calls about it and everyone is so excited. It has really snowballed,” Rowland said. “It takes just one person to bring this all together and we all get excited. It’s the community helping the community.”

Faroni emphasized the tremendous support from ITS in getting this project launched. Once they got the OK, all the pieces started rolling in from across campus.

And the appreciation of the folks getting the computers was incredible, he said. One woman he spoke to was thrilled to be getting a new computer.

“One mom was so happy, she’s going to hide it away and give it to her kids on Christmas, if she can keep it hidden that long,” Faroni laughed.

Hoping to get the word out even more across campus, Faroni hopes to build up an inventory of computer parts at Western to continually feed Toth and the families in London.

“We want to reach more people and see if we can do this more often,” Toth said. “There are always departments upgrading their systems, and while they may not be valuable any more for that specific department, for home and personal use it’s a huge win for us.”

FOR MORE INFO
If you would like more information about Project Comp-U-Give, or would like to donate, contact Western’s manager of fire safety Frank Faroni at a firesafety@uwo.ca.