Why Net Neutrality matters
Logging on to a new life
Manny Crespo gives computers
— and people — a second chance
By JOSHUA M. BERNSTEIN
Steps from Madison Square Garden, inside the chalk-white Technical Career Institutes, Manny Crespo sits in a laboratory and resurrects the dead and the dying.
Crespo, a single, 36-year-old Corona, Queens, resident with stubbly hair, rimless glasses and closely cropped goatee, is no Dr. Frankenstein. Instead, he sits in a cramped office inside room 305 (aka the "communications laboratory") amid mountains of dismembered computer parts, some functional, some Dumpster-bound. Here, he and his crew of student technicians kill viruses and upgrade software until the desktop PCs are revitalized and can once again change people's lives.
"Everyone deserves a computer," Crespo says in his measured, confident tone while sitting behind his desk. "We're making sure no needy person is left out."
Crespo is the coordinator of Dare 2 Repair, the fix-it arm of Dare 2 Dream, a 13-year-old program that provides computers and computer training to nonprofits, disabled kids, senior citizens and veterans. Its mission is simple: It solicits Internet-ready computers from law firms, Fortune 500 corporations and everyday New Yorkers, which are then repaired by Crespo and his five student workers. The machines — about 10 to 15 are refurbished each week — are then supplied to Dare 2 Dream students, but only after they complete a training course.
"If we give people computers without instructing them, they often become furniture pieces," says Robert Lubell, director of Dare 2 Dream.
"When I first met him, he was just a student in the classroom with an attitude," Lubell says.
Then the teacher told him about Dare 2 Repair, and Crespo took to it like a fish to water.
"I liked what he was talking about," Crespo says. "He made helping people seem so gratifying."
Though Crespo joined Dare 2 Repair to help others, he soon helped himself. His dean's list accolades stacked up, report cards peppered with A's, as he "went from a self-indulgent student to a leader and an organizer," Lubell says. Then, at the tail end of 2004, the Dare 2 Repair coordinator left her position. Who could fill those shoes?
"Look up happy in the dictionary, and you'll see a picture of me: I'm the definition of happy," says Crespo, who was named Dare 2 Repair coordinator in January 2005, an early gift for his August graduation. "I'm finally doing what I love."
His joy comes from recounting the increasingly varied list of people who have received computers. Recipients have ranged from a retired Harlem ballerina to hospital-bound kids to hurricane victims around the country.
Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans included the flooding of a local homeless mission, ruining its computers. Dare 2 Repair shipped 50 computers to the Big Easy. "We helped how we knew best," Crespo says.
The mission workers, of course, were grateful. Other times, appreciation is less apparent. One day Crespo was delivering a computer to a young girl suffering from autism. While he was hooking up her desktop unit, the girl was "into her own thing, not really paying attention," he says. "But when I flipped on the computer, she started leaping around. I thought she was going to jump on my leg!" he says, laughing. "I was asking her mom, 'Is she okay? Is she okay?'" "That's just her being excited," the mom said. "She's never had a computer."
Doing the right thing can be contagious. Last year, Navy veteran Anthony Warrington, 47, made a resolution: "It was time I learned how to use a computer." So he turned to Dare 2 Dream, which currently assists 82 veterans — from World War II to Iraq.
After completing his tutorial, Warrington received one of Crespo's computers. The experience was so rewarding that he became Dare 2 Dream's head instructor.
"People try to give me money all the time," Crespo says, shaking his head. "Why should I take money? All the computers and equipment were donated — I want to give them all away. Everyone should have a computer."
These are the people who need net access the most, and who can least afford the "extras" that Verizon wants to shove down the pike. An aware society is a participatory society and without access to the Internet, that becomes impossible for many people
posted by Steve @ 7:28:00 AM