Island youth brings laptops back to life

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Finnegan Guenther has started a project that combines his passion for computers and his motivation to benefit his community and the environment. 

The 13-year-old Salt Spring Islander has for the past six months spent a lot of his time repairing computers and selling them at affordable rates. He is now looking for donations of old laptops so he can continue his project.

Guenther has always had a passion for computers, which he says is kind of funny as he got virtually no screen time until the age of eight. Yet in his family, he is the one to take on tech challenges like fixing his parents’ smartphone screens. He remembers one early challenge: taking a really, really slow iPhone his mother owned and optimizing it.

“I basically worked obsessively for a month, just optimizing every single setting one by one. And I loved it, it was so much fun.” The result was “still a slow phone, but a marginally less slow phone,” he said. 

From there, Guenther went on to work on his parents’ laptops and newer cell phones. Along the way, he started to learn a lot about the various computer parts and their functions as well as how to maneuver around old operating systems.

“Just so much stuff,” he said of the learning he has been doing, “it’s really hard for me to name something.”

He also has a mentor who brings him computers with specific issues to work on.

Guenther is not usually dealing with computer hardware, although sometimes he will replace a component. Parts are expensive to replace, though, and for old computers the exact parts can be hard to source as they are either discontinued or only available second hand for exorbitant prices. Instead, most of his work is with software.

In addition to the hard skills, Guenther has also learned about pricing.

“I tried to sell a computer for $25 because $25 is really cheap for a computer, but no one asked about it because they assumed it was just a garbage computer,” he recalled. Guenther’s neighbour advised him to up his prices, which he did, and he now walks the line between “having it be affordable and having it be so low that people think it doesn’t work.” 

Over the past six months, Guenther has fixed up and sold a half dozen laptops.

“It is a lot of work, but I love it,” he said.  

The idea started with a special homeschool class project he’s meant to do at the end of the year.

“I was looking for something that could . . . help out people in the community and at the same contribute and not harm the environment but help the environment. As well as doing something that I love.”

The project he came up with is a good combination of his love for anything to do with computers and his interest in problem solving and fixing things. 

Old computers are destined to sit in people’s homes before they are thrown out, he explained, as there is no time or monetary incentive to repair them. Guenther’s project keeps the plastic and various metal components out of the recycling plant or landfill and redirects these devices to people who can make use of them.

“They’re often very happy to get a computer for not $7,000,” he said of the response he has gotten from his clients. 

Guenther is on the lookout for old laptops to keep this project going. Anyone with one to give away can email him at guentherfinnegan@gmail.com. He assures people that as soon as he gets a donated computer, it will be completely wiped so there is no trace of anyone’s personal information left on it.

Anyone who wants to buy a computer can also get in touch and he will let them know what he has on hand.

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