Old computers get new life thanks to retired General Electric engineers

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — In a hyperconnected world, living without a computer can make everything harder to do in daily life. Yet, that is the reality some families face in the Capital Region. The Eflun Computer Rehab in Schenectady is trying to change that by closing the digital divide one refurbished computer at a time.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, a group of seniors gets together for some coffee and conversation. Though they are not your average seniors, the retired engineers from G.E. meet for more than just java. “A few guys were retiring from G.E. and they saw computers being dumped into the trash. They knew most of those items were workable,” Terry Lustofin explains.

a man working on a computer
Terry Lustofin works on a computer to get it back in working order.

Lustofin, the program coordinator, says the group started back in 1993. These days, Terry and his computer-savvy buddies turn tech trash into technological treasures. “Basically, we’ve got a computer we don’t know the condition of, we plug it in, turn it on, and see what works what doesn’t work. And that tells us how far we have to go,” he explained.

The donated hardware comes in from all over the Capital Region. “We will take it no matter what it is. If it’s junk, we will strip it down to the parts we can use,” Terry added.

The warehouse on the G.E. campus stockpiles towers, laptops and hard drives. They also have a graveyard of accessories waiting to be restored. Terry searches for parts to piece together like he’s on a scavenger hunt. Before he starts stripping away the network of wires, he has a volunteer wipe the hard drive. Then Terry gets down to the nuts and bolts of his project. “It’s the software installation and all of the upgrades that take a lot of time,” Terry said.

It’s time well spent. Some of the machines go around the world while some find local homes. “I think these are going to Ghana,” Terry said.

In Cohoes, Jayden Jones, 14, can finally do his homework at home, getting his first personal computer just this summer. “It was really hard to do schoolwork. Now I’m able to do schoolwork from home really easily. It works perfectly, too,” Jones shared.

inside of a computer
Work continues on this older computer. It will be ready to be sent out soon.

The machines make it out into the community free of charge through schools and non-profit groups that Elfun partners with all over the globe and locally. The Cohoes Connect Center, where Jayden spends time after school, helped him get his free computer. “It’s not just food, clothing and housing. It’s also digital equity that needs to be addressed as well, and that looks like these machines,” explained Ben Williams with the Connect Center.

Jayden added, “If they didn’t give me this computer, I don’t know when I was going to get one. I am really thankful they did that for me.”

His mom shares in the sentiment. “We’ve been having a little struggle. That wasn’t my main focus to get right away.”

The new home computer has been a learning experience for both mom and son. “He is showing me ‘Ma look! This is what I’m creating.’ That’s the future for them. It’s also teaching me, so I don’t stay behind as a parent.”

The computer has helped Jayden plug into new interests. “It was creating my own thing, saying it was my very own game. That really got me excited,” he said.

It’s the excitement that’s being felt by the volunteers at Elfun. They may come for the coffee, but it’s opening new windows of opportunity that keeps them working.

“We get a lot of thank you notes. I’ve got a file full of them from individuals saying how much that computer means to them.” Terry said.

Prior to the pandemic, the volunteers helped donate more than 800 machines. Terry tells NEWS10 they are most in need of older laptops that they can refurbish. If you would like to donate an old machine, you can contact the Elfun Group through their website. Terry reassures those who donate that they use a software packet from the Department of Defense to wipe and overwrite old hard drives so no one has to worry about their digital security.

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