12-year-old refurbishing electronics to bring technology to those with limited access

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A Monroe County 7th grader is looking to make a difference by bringing technology to those who need it.

Last year 12-year-old Toby Thomassen started a school project in which he identified the problem of E-waste. Simply put, Toby believes that many of the devices we discard and throw away (laptops, cell phones, etc.) can be repurposed and put to good use.

Because Toby is a proclaimed computer “whiz kid,” (he can take a part of a computer and put it back together with the best of them) he decided to do something about it. His focus became to give a “second life” to laptops so they could be used by teens with limited access.

“It’s not that hard. If you have an old laptop rather than just dumping it somewhere, or getting it crushed, or sold for scrap you can use it,” Toby said.

To help with his mission, Toby reached out to the IU surplus store, a warehouse-like retailer for all of IU’s used products. Toby pitched store manager Todd Reid on selling him defunct laptops so they could be refurbished and given to those who need them. Reid was sold.

“I honestly couldn’t wait until he was done talking so I could invite my way in to join him,” Reid said.

Toby’s process is simple, his family buys the laptops from the surplus store, and then he refurbishes and restores them. He also upgrades their software. Toby says he can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours working on each laptop.

Two weeks ago, Toby donated a set of 12 refurbished laptops to Monroe County CASA.

“I reached out to them and they said they would love to have laptops,” Toby said

The executive director of Monroe County CASA, Kristin Bishay, says the donation was much needed. Bishay says due to the opioid crisis, more and more teens have been entering the foster system. Which means access to technology is increasingly important.

“It could be the difference literally of graduating, or not graduating high school. It could be that simple and that strong of a difference it makes for a child,” Bishay said.

So far, Monroe County CASA has given out a half dozen of Toby’s original donation. More are expected to be handed out throughout the week. Toby says he plans to continue his donations, and is already working on a few more laptops. He says his main goal is to simply bring teenagers access to technology that may not have it otherwise.

“It makes me really happy that someone else is having the ability to use technology,” he said.

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