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A Reboot That Pays Off Big Time

When I visited Project Reboot three years ago, I hoped to shine a bit of light on a wonderfully efficient little effort to lift people from poverty and ignorance. I thought readers might team up to keep Gerry Rosenkrantz and his band of volunteers going in the little white house in downtown Rockville where they collected, refurbished and gave away about 50 computers a month.

The gambit worked: A little publicity got Montgomery County to give Project Reboot two extra years in its publicly-owned building. Rosenkrantz and his fellow retirees, mostly learned gents who come together as much to be with each other as to launch people of little means into the digital world, used their borrowed time wisely. They couldn't bring themselves to say no to all the donations of old computers that walked in the door, so they just worked harder and harder.

These days, they give away 250 computers a month (there's a token fee of $10 to cover the licensed operating system), and they are ramping up to process 300 a month soon. Project Reboot is now equipping not only foster children and impoverished families, but also blind and low vision people in Montgomery, Baltimore, Prince George's and West Virginia.

But the best news is the latest twist in the volunteer program's struggle to find a home: The county government, which three years ago was intent on kicking Project Reboot to the curb to make room for an affordable housing project scheduled to be built on its Fleet Street site, has had a change of heart. Project Reboot has now moved into a county facility on Choke Cherry Road that's big enough to house 30 volunteers from the Capital PC User Group--which means more capacity to store, rework and pass along even more computers.

Credit County Executive Ike Leggett, schools superintendent Jerry Weast, members of the county council, and the companies that own and lease the project's new home for their support of this terrific program.

"From doing something after retirement and running it out of my basement for a year, we now give out about $1.3 million of IT equipment a year, for peanuts," says Rosenkrantz, 77, a retired metal and energy analyst for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

My column on the project is here.

For information about donating or getting a computer from Project Reboot, contact

By Marc Fisher |  January 26, 2009; 8:45 AM ET
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