In my efforts to get Victor to use the Reading Kingdom I promised his mother that I would try to get him a donated laptop. School on Wheels volunteers are discouraged from giving large gifts, so I figured a donation would be the way to go. I put an ad on Craigslist. “Donate used laptop to help homeless kid learn to read. Tax-deductible.”
I had to re-post a version of this ad every day for over two weeks until I finally received an email from Mark (not his real name) who said he had a side business repairing old computers. He was happy to donate and wanted to present the computer to the kid himself. I told him that due to regulations governing domestic abuse shelters, he couldn’t meet the kid, or even know his name. Mark still agreed to donate the laptop.
One sweltering afternoon I went over to the apartment building in Santa Monica where Mark was the super. He was an affable, middle-aged man who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the text “Old Guys Rock.” His ground floor apartment was a quiet place with a white cottage cheese ceiling and a view of a concrete wall obscured by vinyl blinds. As Mark finished reformatting the hard drive of a computer that was twice Victor’s age, we sat at his table and talked.
It turns out that until a few months ago, Mark had been homeless himself.
“For how long?” I asked.
“On and off for three years.”
Mark was a vet who had been on the streets and drunk. But he had gotten his life together, was sober and had trained himself to repair computers. He was also the only one who had responded to my Craigslist plea.
Mark was quick to express his gratitude and relief at having a job. His empathy for this homeless kid he couldn’t meet moved me. He was urgent about making sure this little boy knew how to read.
“Reading is the most important thing,” he said.
Two days later, I walked into the shelter carrying Mark’s donation in a reusable cloth grocery bag.
“Did you bring your computer?” Victor asked hopefully.
“What is it?” he asked.
“I’ll show you after we’re done with your homework.”
Forty-five minutes later Victor snuck a peek into my bag. “You DID bring your computer!” he exclaimed.
“No, I didn’t. Now finish your math.”
Finally, I pulled the clunky gray machine out the bag.
“I didn’t bring my computer,” I announced, “I brought your computer.”
Victor’s entire body shook with joy. He tried to stuff the computer into his flimsy Spiderman backpack, until I assured him that it would rip.
“Let’s go show it to your mother,” I said.
“Can I carry it?”
Victor proudly carried the old laptop through the shelter as if it were a platter of rare jewels.
“I feel like I’m already in college,” he said.
His mother was equally ecstatic about the gift.
“We should do something nice for Colby,” Victor said.
He offered me a donut. I looked at the box of soggy calorie bombs and told him I didn’t want to spoil my appetite for dinner.
“A glass of milk?” he asked.
I told him what he could do was write a Thank You note to the kind man who had donated the computer. Victor’s face scrunched with concern.
“I’ll help you write it,” I assured him, knowing he had never written a Thank You note in his life.
When I got home that evening Mark’s email awaited me.
“How did it go?” he asked.
I wrote, “You made two people REALLY happy today, plus me and the people who run the shelter, so the number is really more like seven.”
“Now that just tickles me to no end,” he replied, “Who knew such a small gesture would produce so much joy! Cause I sure didn’t!! It’s a pretty good feeling I got right about now… Can we do this again?”
I hope that we can.