Sen. Dole impressed with Students in Training

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Students in Training has been one of Salisbury’s best-kept secrets, but the nonprofit organization took a step toward shedding its obscurity Monday when U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., paid a visit.
With SIT president and founder Charles Patton leading the way, Dole learned how students in middle school through college are taking used computers, tearing them down for recycling or refurbishing others for donation to the needy or resale.
Kids drive the process in this after-school program, which combines mentoring with hands-on training for the students in leadership, technology and environmental stewardship.
Dole was impressed.
“It’s a wonderful cause,” she said. “A mission field.”
Located at 112-B S. Main St., in a basement home donated free of charge by Steve Fuller of Innes Street Drug, Students in Training has sections devoted to inventory, software installation, training, e-Bay sales, Web design, infrastructure management and recycling.
If you imagine a place filled with what looks like the evolution of the personal computer, you’d be right. The used, donated computers ó which seem to be everywhere ó come from individual households and major businesses.
Places such as the VA Medical Center, Catawba College and F&M Bank donate their old computers. The most decent ones can be reworked, reloaded with software and redistributed to places in need such as the YMCA, the Department of Social Services and Communities in Schools.
As for the recycling, many of the old computers are broken down into their basic components, which are put into labeled boxes.
It’s this part of the process where new students to the program start, learning what makes up a computer.
Parts for recycling are carried out back to waiting bins for pickup within a day. Patton said the various pieces are sold, given away or SIT has to pay for them to be picked up. Overall, the recycling aspect “just about breaks even,” he said, before salaries and overhead are factored in.
SIT has about 100 kids enrolled, with 40 to 50 students showing up on any given day during the school year, Patton said. On days when home-school students attend, the crowd is larger, he adds.
Over the summer, Patton has about eight people as his paid staff, including Bill Lawry, recently hired as the first executive director and operations manager. Most of the others are older students already in college or heading there.
During the school year, the program has four paid positions.
SIT depends on community contributions to keep going. Food Lion, the Blanche & Julian Robertson Family Foundation, Woodson Foundation, F&M Bank and Wachovia have been among the major sponsors.
Patton, who founded SIT 12 years ago with the donation of 18 used computers from a federal credit union, has asked Dole and Jenny Michael of her staff to consider helping with federal grants and introduce the program to Dole’s Senate colleagues.
The environmental aspect of the SIT program caught Dole’s attention.
Alex Thayil, a rising freshman at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and a North Hills Christian School graduate, said lead and mercury are the main environmental threats from discarded computers.
SIT kept 40 tons of E-waste out of landfills in 2007 and estimates it will keep 80 to 100 tons out this year, Thayil said.
SIT also has begun preliminary discussions with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina and Catawba College on initiatives related to carbon dioxide sequestering ó seen as important in reducing global warming.
Besides Dole, others at the SIT office Monday included City Manager David Treme and F&M Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Paul Fisher.