Refurbished Belmont computers given to seniors and kids

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Partially disassembled computers await students before David Petto's class at the Belmont Senior Center​Instead of generating e-waste each year when aging town computers are replaced, Belmont’s Information Technology Director David Petto offers them to seniors who take an introductory computer class he teaches at the town’s Senior Center.
 
Belmont’s computers are replaced on a five-year cycle, Petto said, so they are too old to have resale value. And recycling them would require removing and destroying the hard drive before paying to recycle them.
 
Instead, computers being cycled out of town hall have their hard drives wiped clean, to Defense Department standards, by using specialized software, Petto said. He then loads Adobe Reader, Open Office, and Microsoft Security Essentials for antivirus protection on each computer, which runs on either the Windows 7 or Windows 10 operating system, depending on the machine.
 
Petto has been teaching the introductory computer class for seniors on his own time for a decade, with a maximum of 10 students each calendar quarter. A $50 donation to the senior center gets students a 12-session course that literally goes to the nuts and bolts of a computer.
 
“Older folks can be afraid of computers, that they’re going to break them,” Petto said. “I try to eliminate the fear. One way I do that is actually have them take it apart. … I discuss all the components, how they work, then we put them back together, and I teach them how to create files and folders and how to go on the internet.”
 
At the end of the course, the computers are given to the seniors to keep.
 
The oldest class participant so far has been 96, and the youngest has been 62, with the average age around 80, Petto said. What students want to accomplish varies, from learning email so they can stay in touch with children and grandchildren, to organizing photos and music, to using video conferencing software like Skype so they can have face-to-face conversations over the internet.
 
“My last class, I had a student who purchases the Great Courses [online home study] series, and that’s the sole reason he came to the class,” Petto said. “He wanted to be able to run those on his computer. He doesn’t want to connect to the internet or anything else, he just wants to be able to run those discs.”
 
Petto said the town also donates computers to children in need. An outreach worker in the town’s Health Department identifies families that may need assistance and have children who need computers for school.