Green Guide

Giving new life to old devices

Posted November 30

— Douglass Schocke's retirement hobby started at a small kiosk inside La Montañita Co-op, where he helped shoppers with small computer repairs and took in old equipment with the hope it could be updated, recycled or donated.

Now, as technology has begun reaching obsolescence ever faster, Schocke's hobby has expanded into the not-for-profit Computer Charity NM, located in a four-room office park on Rosina Street.

On a recent visit, Schocke had towers of old personal computers stashed in corners and bursting from storage shelves. Wires and cables were stuffed into boxes and drawers, and a back loading dock had just received 100 bulky old television sets from the Angel Fire Resort for recycling. The nonprofit also has a half dozen employees who take in old equipment, strip out the metal, copper and other parts, then reuse what is possible.

Some days the 76-year-old former college professor is surprised about what has become of his retirement. "I think I'm doing something useful," he said. "I could sit on my ass all day and watch TV, but I'd probably go nutty."

Schocke is one of this year's 10 Who Made a Difference honorees for his decades-long work with Computer Charity NM, an organization that has given some 600 computers to low-income families and made affordable reused units available to all who need them.

People who come in for assistance are asked to show proof they are low-income in order to receive a free computer. "He charges if you can pay for it, and if you can't pay he doesn't charge," said Mari Grana, an 80-year-old writer who stumbled upon the shop more than three years ago and became a regular customer. "I think he's doing something worthwhile. He's giving children the opportunity to have a machine."

Mike Harcharik, office manager for the organization, said they can't refurbish everything that comes in the door. "We get computers that are 10 or 12 years old — that's like having a car that goes 25 miles per hour on the interstate."

The recycling portion of the organization was established to support the nonprofit work — and is a large reason Schocke can pay his seven employees. Some months he also pitches in money from his own funds — a college pension, military disability and Social Security — to cover expenses.

The organization takes pride in the fact that every item it accepts is reprocessed for use or recycled, with even cables and connectors — and who doesn't have a box of those stashed in a closet? — shipped out to be melted away so the copper can be tapped.

Many old PC units come from the State of New Mexico, where agencies often switch out desktop computers every three years. Most systems need upgrading after just 18 months, said Schocke.

Computer Charity NM helps clients at The Life Link, a nonprofit focusing on substance abuse, mental health and housing, get a computer and get online. For many people, Schocke said, having internet access is the only way they can apply for a job.

The organization also works with residents at St. Elizabeth Shelter; has set up computers at schools, senior centers and the Democratic Party headquarters; and has worked with tribal communities in Arizona and New Mexico.

Schocke was raised in Oxford, Ohio. He enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18, serving both in Alaska and as part of a Special Forces unit in Central America from 1961 to 1965. He returned opposed to the Vietnam War and became active in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a group started by Secretary of State John Kerry and other vets who saw combat.

But Schocke's main calling was teaching on the college level. When he pursued a master's degree in the social sciences at Florida State University, he tinkered with computers and became the person many in the department sought out for help. The same thing happened during his 32-year teaching stint at Northern Virginia Community College, which has several campuses in suburban Washington, D.C.

In New Mexico, he has taught part-time for The University of New Mexico Los Alamos branch and for Highlands University. But it's no surprise that he spends most days fiddling with and cobbling away on outdated technology to try to give it new life.

As a sign above his desk reads, "How we spend our days is how we spend our lives."

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