The National Cristina Foundation was founded in 1984 because we believed that previously used computer technology could be effectively reused. Though at the time it was still to be a proven concept, we were determined that no computer coming out of its first place of service should ever be wasted if it could be used to support or train a person in need.
Innovation happens in unexpected ways. There is a challenge, a real human problem to be solved, and an “aha moment.” With reference to the formal mission of the National Cristina Foundation and its call to action that "technology and human capital resources are too valuable to waste," the moment of seeing the problem and seeing the solution occurred when we made two critical connections.
Around the time David Bruce McMahan had donated an Apple 2e computer to his daughter Cristina's special education classroom, he was closing down a business in Chicago. In that process he needed to dispose of a mainframe computer that had cost over one million dollars. It was sold for $40,000. Though it was a perfectly functioning machine, it was used, somewhat obsolete and its fair market value had significantly diminished. It was still working, however, and could perform many functions. Yet it was no longer valuable in its first place of use.
|Yvette and Souhad, 1984
The new Apple 2e had been in my classroom for several weeks, when one day as the class was on the way to music one of the students, Souhad, a child with cerebral palsy, began to weep very loudly and inconsolably. When I asked her why she was weeping she could only sob in response. We spent part of the afternoon, the class and I, talking. The conversation was driven by the topic that emerged from Souhad's question that day between her tears, "What is to become of me that I am handicapped?"
I called David Bruce McMahan to see if he would give us some additional funds for software and switches that I needed. There was a lot to learn, no small challenge considering that computing was not yet generally available to most regular education, let alone special education, environments.
Not long after, on one rainy afternoon, David Bruce McMahan asked me to meet with him to talk about what he was seeing happening at the school with his daughter and the other students. That day was a special day in our thinking. When we look back we realize we had come to that aha moment where our key questions converged about a solution that responded to two significant challenges considered quite radical in 1984. In fact people called us crazy for our belief in the value of obsolete equipment as training tools. We felt sure, however, that computers coming out of their first place of use where they were considered of little value could be transferred to places where they would be of great value.
We agreed to create a Foundation to address the convergence of the two needs we saw that required action: The fate of the millions of computers that would ultimately be manufactured over time and turn obsolete in their first place of use (such as the fate of that mainframe David Bruce McMahan disposed of in Chicago) and my need to answer the question of a child who lamented "What is to become of me that I am handicapped." Together, as co-founders, we would address the challenge, a real human problem to be solved-- not only for people with disabilities but also the disadvantaged --and at the same time the environmental challenge of responsible reuse and ultimately responsible recycling.
David Bruce McMahan continues to support the National Cristina Foundation's operating overhead in an ongoing way as well as engages in a number of other philanthropic agendas and that his children make an effort to emulate, - see www.mcmahan-philanthropy.com.
Today, from one classroom, in one school, in one city, in one state, the work of the National Cristina Foundation has now touched millions of people in all fifty states and a number of places around the world. And, the term Reuse which did not exist in 1984, has become part of the lexicon for giving older technology a productive second life.