September 29, 2005.
Los Angeles Daily News.
They make one heck of a team - Joseph Ogbomon, a quadriplegic, and his buddy, Jal Montero, who is legally blind.
Joe provides the eyes, Jal the hands. Together, they've refurbished hundreds of old, donated computers, and changed the lives of many low-income, physically challenged people living in the Valley.
People just like them.
Joe and Jal stopped by Los Angeles Valley College last week and gave away 50 computers they spent months working on in Joe's North Hollywood kitchen.
The recipients were from the campus' disabled-student programs and community groups, like Operation Confidence, that help find jobs for people with disabilities.
"You have no idea how lonely it can be for them," says Consuelo Mackey, founder and executive director of Operation Confidence. "But these two wonderful, talented guys have made it possible for so many people with disabilities to reach out and stay in touch with the world, and make friends on the Internet."
Many people simply assume that everyone has a computer, but that's not the case, says Yasmin Delahoussaye, vice president of student services at Valley College.
"There's a huge divide between the haves and have-nots, and Joe and Jal are doing their best to close that gap a little," she said.
"The first time I met them, they were donating some computers they had fixed to a battered women's shelter. Most of the women had left abusive homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
"They were trying to get their lives back, and Joe and Jal were there to help them."
Joe the eyes of the team, Jal the hands.
They met in a computer class back in the late 1990s. Jal had just moved to the U.S. from the Philippines, and needed to update his computer skills. He took an instant liking to the guy sitting next to him - the man from Nigeria in the wheelchair.
Joe had been left paralyzed from a car accident a year before, and was trying to get his life back together again. He couldn't walk anymore, and had only limited movement in his chest and arms. None in his hands and fingers.
Jal had been born with a congenital heart defect caused when his mother contracted rubella while she was carrying him. It would take his eyesight over the years as well.
"We talked about our lives and laughed about how we complemented each other," Jal says. "He had the eyes, I had the hands."
They landed jobs in the same tech-support company, but it relocated to Iowa a few years ago. Joe and Jal didn't want to move.
"I decided to start a little nonprofit company to fix computers for other people with disabilities, and asked Jal if he'd like to help," Joe said.
There wasn't any paycheck, the hours were long, and the working conditions cramped - a one-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood. But Jal said he'd ride the bus between Reseda and North Hollywood.
So that's what they've been doing the last few years as a nonprofit corporation, Computech for Humanity. Scavenging parts from old computers donated by local businesses and individuals, and turning them into updated computers for people who can't afford them.
Hoping that someone will come along and maybe find them larger quarters to fix those computers because Joe's wife, Elizabeth, is getting a little tired of her kitchen table being covered in computer parts all the time.
Dennis McCarthy's column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749
For information on Computech for Humanity, call (818) 230-5182.
Source URL: http://www2.dailynews.com/dennismccarthy/ci_3070321
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