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High-Tech Rehabilitation

Teen Teams Up With Prison Inmates To Rebuild Computers To Donate For Charity

November 27, 2006
By DIANE STRUZZI, Courant Staff Writer

CHESHIRE -- Computers have been a part of Jacob Komar's life since he was a toddler. By the time he was 5, he said, he could program some basic computer commands. At 9, he started his own nonprofit organization - Computers for Communities - to rehab computers and provide them to the needy.

But the story about the 14-year-old from Burlington, who is already working toward a college degree, doesn't end there. This year, Computers for Communities began working with inmates at Cheshire Correctional Institution, who have helped refurbish dozens of computers, many given out in Hartford.

"Computers are an essential part of my life," Jacob said. Computers for Communities "was a perfect match. I loved working on computers and fixing computers. It was a perfect match of what I could be doing in my free time."

The relationship with Cheshire Correctional began after Ken Cairns, a vocational instructor at the state prison, contacted the teenager. The goal is twofold, Cairns said: Inmates gain computer skills and accomplish something good for the community.

Last Wednesday, inmates Troy Westberry and James Pinder were in the prison's computer repair shop, working with Jacob. More than 100 computers have been refurbished at the prison so far. Both said the positive contribution they are making means a lot to them.

"I have to take every opportunity here and use it to the best of my ability," said Westberry, who is serving a 60-year prison term for a 1999 Hartford murder.

"I have to put forth a work ethic," Westberry, 29, said. "I have to show my kids that even though I'm in jail, I'm still learning. ... This is the kind of example I want to set."

Pinder is serving 40 years in prison for the 1994 murder of a friend in Fairfield County. During the summer, Pinder, 32, said his work with computers helped him maintain a connection with the world beyond the prison's walls.

"The great thing about this program is that I'm making a difference on the outside even though I'm caged in here," he said. "It makes an impact on the world, and that's what life is. ... When you're able to put [a computer] together and make it work, that's fantastic."

Westberry said the program has helped him improve his communication skills. He was pleased when he learned that some of the computers he worked on were headed for the needy in Hartford.

"When I was growing up, I didn't have computers like this," he said this summer. "I know it will help kids learn. ... I think it's a blessing to just know we're helping kids."

Cheshire has six vocational programs, including the computer repair class, which is one of only two in the entire prison system, said Dorthula Green, the principal of educational programs at Cheshire.

"It's a service to the community so people are actually benefiting from what's happening in that program," she said. "It makes the guys feel like they're actually doing something viable. ... It gives them a feeling that they're giving something back, using their time wisely."

Jacob's mother, Alicia Komar, said she has seen her son evolve through his work with the nonprofit organization he began - from a kid who wanted to fix computers and reach out to his community to a mature teen who is helping people. Alicia Komar now spends a large portion of her time helping out with Computers for Communities, which allows Jacob to focus on his studies and still be involved with the technical and coordinating aspects of the organization.

Jacob attends the University High School of Science and Engineering in Hartford. He also takes classes at the University of Hartford and plans to get his high school and college diplomas at the same time, hopefully graduating in 2008.

To help cover overhead costs, his nonprofit organization is asking for a small financial donation - about $40 - from those who receive the computers and can afford it, Alicia Komar said. She said the organization, in conjunction with the University of Hartford and Hartford Public Schools, just received a grant from the National Science Foundation that will be used to set up two after-school programs in Hartford for seventh- through 12th-graders to teach them technology skills.

Jacob is also helping train some Hartford residents on computers, as part of a Hartford city initiative in downtown and the Blue Hills area. Since he started Computers for Communities five years ago, Jacob said, he has learned more about computers and people.

"I'm very passionate about this project because I love how it affects people in a positive way," he said. "It's an important part of my life. ... I can see the results of it, of the people who benefit from it."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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