How One Foundation Links Schools, Companies

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One of the most successful programs for transferring donated corporate computers to schools is run by the Detwiler Foundation.

Since it was founded in 1991, the San Diego-based group has helped funnel more than 37,000 computers to 1,800 California schools, said Diana Detwiler, the foundation's executive director. The program has put 1,500 computers in schools in eight other states.

Ms. Detwiler started the foundation with her father, John Detwiler. A long list of corporations supply funding and equipment donations.

"Our long-term vision is for us to be a catalyst or a channel to put into schools whatever they need in terms of technology," Ms. Detwiler said in an interview last week.

The foundation's method is to woo companies into giving schools their old computers and to arrange with state officials to have the machines repaired and upgraded in job-training programs at state prisons or youth-incarceration centers. State money pays for parts and instructors.

The use of inmates drastically lowers the labor costs of repairing the machines. Other recycling programs use vocational students or volunteers to fix computers, but prisoners are far more productive because they work all day, every day, said Jerry Grayson, a regional director for the foundation. Inmates also learn job skills--a plus for them and for society, Mr. Grayson added.

In California, donors and the prison programs are allowed to designate up to 10 percent of the computers for schools of their choice; the foundation distributes the rest to schools that apply for them.

An Upgraded Program

Detwiler's guidelines emphasize serving needy schools, and schools typically are limited to receiving about five computers at a time.

The Detwiler program has been criticized in the past for requiring schools to solicit an equal number of computer donations from their communities. It also has been accused of "dumping" archaic or unreliable computers on unsuspecting schools.

The foundation no longer has the matching requirement, though it will charge schools a "nominal" fee, Ms. Detwiler said. And it accepts computers only of a certain vintage or newer--currently a 486 in California, though a 386 or 286 in some other states. It also has a one-year trade-in warranty for all computers.

Detwiler is in the midst of an expansion drive that, so far, has persuaded six states, in addition to California, to form formal partnerships.

Some states have created similar, home-grown donation programs.

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