- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - James Fritz’s parents taught him to always treat others the way he wanted to be treated.

He has taken that credo into a ministry of repairing computers and giving them away to people who ordinarily couldn’t afford one - primarily those on fixed incomes, senior citizens and children with special needs.

But it all started with Fritz, 73, not knowing what to do next to support his family when he was laid off by an RV repair business in 2008.

“Of course, I was one of the first ones from the place I was working for to get laid off,” he recalled. “The two owners called me in and when it was all said and done, they had tears in their eyes.”

Looking for a way to make some money quickly, he received guidance in an online chatroom from someone he later found out works for Microsoft in Seattle. His new friend told him to buy a computer for $50, refurbish it and resell it for more.

“I said, ‘Yeah I know how to turn one on and turn one off.’ But through his help, I self-taught myself how to redo computers,” Fritz said.

The Elkhart man said it was around Christmas in 2009 when he remembered what his parents told him when he was young. Fritz was inspired to donate his old Gateway desktop computer, monitor, keyboard and mouse to someone who needed it. He posted that he had a working computer on Elkhart Freecycle, a website where people could post and request free items.

“I got 78 inquiries within three days for that computer,” Fritz said. “I picked the family and gave it to them. But then I felt bad because I had to disappoint all the others.”

He decided to start a program to meet the need for those who cannot otherwise afford a computer. Fritz relies completely on donations for the computers, keyboards, mice and monitors. He will purchase new components if necessary out of his own pocket.

Fritz receives a computer here and there, but occasionally he receives a large donation of 10 or more.

“The biggest one was a guy in South Bend. He said he had about eight computers and some other computer junk that I could have as long as I could get it off his porch,” he said. “It blossomed from Elkhart to the whole Michiana area like LaGrange, Coldwater, Michigan, Sturgis, St. Joe, Michigan.”

One Michiana high school, which wanted to remain anonymous, donated more than 200 computers after it upgraded to new ones.

So far, Fritz has refurbished and given away more than 400 computers.

But donations of unwanted, old or broken computers have been hard to come by lately. Fritz last received a donated computer last fall. He’s hoping Michiana residents and companies will donate more so he can keep his program going.

“I’ve got 40-some people right now that are calling off and on wondering if I’ve got a computer yet. The ones that really, really want the help are like my wife and I, who are on Social Security,” Fritz said.

Senior citizens need computers more and more to accomplish daily tasks, such as paying bills online to companies that no longer accept checks.

“There’s getting to be such a big need for it. If they pass a law right now you got to do everything all online, there would be thousands of people even here in Elkhart County who would be hurting and wouldn’t be able to do it,” he said. “They can’t afford to go out and buy that computer.”

Fritz also gives computers to children with special needs. He puts additional word and color association games on the laptops he donates.

One of his favorite donations was to a boy with Down syndrome. The boy’s father was getting frustrated because his son kept playing with the dad’s computer. After Fritz gave the boy a refurbished laptop, he jokingly told the youth give his father a hard time.

“He looked at his dad and said, ‘You keep your hands off my computer.’ His dad couldn’t stop smiling,” Fritz said. “He said, ‘OK, you keep your hands off mine. Deal?’ He said, ‘Deal.’”

It’s stories like those that keep Fritz going.

“It makes me feel good,” he said.

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Source: The Elkhart Truth, http://bit.ly/1OAgqGu

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Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

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