Every Monday night, a group of tech-savvy volunteers meets at Marvin Memorial United Methodist Church in Silver Spring to do more than pray.
The group of about eight, known as MacRecycleClinic, meets from 7 to 9 p.m. each Monday to answer computer questions, fix up old Apple computers and donate the refurbished computers to those in need. If they’re unable to fix them, the group strips the computers for parts. Anything that can’t be refurbished is sent to a recycling area in Shady Grove to be disposed of properly.
“Our goal is to refurbish these machines and get them back out into the community,” said Dave Ottalini, a Silver Spring resident and a spokesman for MacRecycleClinic.
The clinic has its roots in the computer group Washington Apple Pi, a Rockville-based group that met on Tuesday nights and operated similarly to MacRecycleClinic. The group had to downsize to a virtual group with no physical office, which Ottalini said led to the creation of MacRecycleClinic.
“People would bring in their computers if they are having troubles and we would help them diagnose problems without warranty,” Ottalini said. “We went into hibernation for a couple of years and found new space at Marvin Memorial Church and for a couple years now, we have been holding Monday night clinics.”
Since breaking away from Washington Apple Pi, the group has helped about 80 individuals and families from the Montgomery Blair High School community, at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda and the House of Ruth battered women’s shelter in Baltimore city, said Rockville resident Jim Ritz, a MacRecycleClinic volunteer.
“We want to put machines in places where they’re going to get used,” Ritz said. “There’s a lot of families that struggle to do things, and buying computers is not something they have a lot of money for.”
Steven Fink, a paralegal from Columbia, has been involved with the group for about 12 years. Fink said the group is made up of an eclectic collection of people, ranging from those in the federal government to members of the media, whose background has no connection except for an interest in computers. While there are volunteers who fix machines for a living, Fink said most of the group’s success results from troubleshooting problems together.
While the giver of the equipment finds the computer “obsolete,” Fink said the machines they receive are still serviceable.
“There isn’t a manual that we have that we can learn how to do this. Apple Computer tolerates us, but they are in the market of selling things, not making something they made 10 years ago usable still,” Fink said. “There’s not a one-stop shop they can go to for these services.”
Because there are Apple computers in schools, Fink said many kids have an “affinity” for Macintosh programs. Susan Fleck, a Takoma Park resident for more than 20 years and a member of the Montgomery Blair PTSA, said her group has raffled off computers donated by MacRecycleClinic at four of their meetings last year. In addition, a number of computers were raffled off at Blair’s After Prom, which enticed students to stick around.
“In my dealings with these kids, having a Mac laptop at the end of the night was the big gig,” said Wynn Witthans, a Silver Spring resident head of the After Prom committee’s prize patrol. “Kids would purposely stay late to After Prom to try to win the computers.”
MacRecycleClinic has had a direct relationship with the school’s counseling department, which has benefited some of the 2,800 students who attend the school that may struggle to complete homework assignments without access to a computer, according to resource counselor Marcia Johnson.
Johnson said the department contacts the student’s parents and refers them to the clinic, which will provide a computer to the student the following Monday.
“The MacRecycleClinic project has really supported the needs of kids who don’t have enough resources, but who want to succeed,” Fleck said. “It helps close the gap.”