As a society, we are famous for neighborly good deeds. For example, many government and nonprofit agencies have set up soup kitchens for the homeless, made donations of winter coats and toys for children, and pitched in to help families during fires, earthquakes, hurricanes or floods. These efforts are our most obvious acts of altruism. But sometimes a need isn't always as apparent as that associated with a disaster.

This is certainly the case with today's school-age children -- our nation's most valuable resource. According to Qed's Quick Reference Guide, dozens of states could use good deeds bestowed upon them in the form of computers. The jurisdictions most in need are those with the highest ratio of students per computer. These include Louisiana, California, Hawaii and Delaware, ranked 51, 50, 49 and 48, respectively.

California, however, may not have to bear its shameful 50th ranking for much longer -- not if organizations like the California Department of Corrections and La Jolla, Calif.-based Detwiler Foundation have anything to do with it. Detwiler has set up the Computers for Schools Program by working in conjunction with the Department of Corrections' state prison system, 52 computer repair centers (which include high school classes), regional occupation programs, community colleges, and five California Youth Authority facilities.

Founded in 1991 by John, Carolyn and Diana Detwiler, the foundation is a nonprofit organization established as a computer-donation pipeline from industry to California classrooms. "We've built a large-volume channel to funnel refurbished and upgraded technology to the schools," said Diana Detwiler, executive director. "We've grown so rapidly over the last five years that we're now the largest source of computers for K-12 schools."


This channel has been established through the foundation's ongoing efforts to build solid, win-win relationships with private industry and government organizations. Detwiler acts as a middleman to collect equipment donations, send the machines out to be refurbished and distribute them to the schools. Companies who wish to begin the process may simply call the foundation and fax over a list of the equipment to be donated. The program accepts all PCs, Macs, keyboards, peripherals and monitors.

The foundation is also very flexible in accepting donations. "They are great in working around our needs," said Barbara Carman, Santa Clara K-12 education manager for Intel, which is also a sponsor of the foundation. "For example, we were upgrading our systems to work with Windows NT and found that we couldn't use our current CPUs, but our monitors worked just fine. I called John Detwiler and explained that we had a lot of CPUs with no monitors or keyboards. He said, 'No problem, send them over.'"

Once the equipment has been properly screened, the foundation asks the donor to deliver it to a nearby vocational repair facility. If the donor cannot transport the equipment, the foundation arranges for a pickup. The minimum load size for pickups is 10 computers. The equipment is then delivered to places like Solano State Prison, located in Vacaville, Calif.


Solano's inmate refurbishing program has been one of the foundation's most successful contributors. "Solano is only one of four prisons to be involved in the program," explained Diana Detwiler. "This way the prisons are teaching inmates computer-repair skills, and we get to produce computers for the schools with no labor costs."

The refurbishing program gives inmates the opportunity to learn how to diagnose and repair CPUs, monitors and keyboards. In order to be admitted to the classes, inmates must go through a classification process and have a minimum of 10th grade reading skills, an above-average comprehension of literature and express a strong desire to participate.

"Each inmate is given a specific PC to work on," said Ray Kirkpatrick, supervisor of vocational instruction at Solano State Prison. "They have the chance to take possession of