Local Businesses Find The Perfect Partner in The Lazarus Foundation

To Ascend One Corp. Community Relations Director Joseph Murray, the Lazarus Foundation is the perfect partner.

The local nonprofit’s “goals align perfectly with our core values — learning and development, service to others, innovation, respect for people, teamwork and integrity," Murray says.

Ascend One is the nation’s leading technology and service provider to the debt management industry and provides an umbrella of diverse services that benefit and help consumers save money and get out of debt. The company encourages volunteerism and charity among its employees and supports their activities through corporate contributions, in-kind services, company organized activities, educational programs and internal and external recognition.

The company’s latest joint venture with the Lazarus Foundation was a PC Olympics that attracted 54 high school students and their teachers/coaches. Howard Bank also provided financial support. Other corporate partners were Chick-Fil-A, Microsoft Corporation, Staples and The Colosseum Gym.

Each school’s best “techies” competed in a variety of events that tested their knowledge of computers, as well as their ability to think on their feet.

During the day-long event at the Applications Research Lab, teams of kids assembled computers from scratch using boxes full of parts, did the troubleshooting necessary to repair broken computers, solved challenging programming problems and more.

“It was the PC version of It’s Academic,” Lazarus Foundation founder Don Bard says. In addition to hands-on computing and repairs, the kids had to answer technical questions on such topics as safety in cyberspace, ethics, programming and the history of computing.

The teams from Long Reach, River Hill and Reservoir High Schools won the competition.

Bard began The Lazarus Foundation in 1992 as an outreach project for a local computer user group. It became a registered 501 (c)(3) nonprofit in 1993.

For several years, volunteers met at the Bain Center one Saturday a month to refurbish used computers that would be made available at very low cost to organizations in need. The group moved from the Bain Center to a storefront, and then Bard struck a formal partnership with the Howard County School System, and The Lazarus Foundation moved to Atholton High. It now has a second location at the Application Research Lab.

One of Bard’s proudest accomplishments might be helping Atholton create an Information Technology Lab where kids do everything from computing to fixing machines.

“Some of the students want to be computer technicians,” Bard says, “and others just want to learn more about computers.”

The Lazarus Foundation’s mission has always been to work through groups, rather than with individuals. Over the years, it has made more than 5000 computers available, some to organizations in Brazil and countries in Africa.

One year, Bard says, “People from Vermont came down to work on computers and left with a van full.”

And for several years, the foundation had a partnership with Elderhostel, an organization that arranges educational travel for seniors. Older people came to Columbia from around the country to spend a week learning about computing and computer recycling.

While there are many organizations that make computers available to groups and people who need them, Bard says “we all have our own style. Some go for grants and get funding to give computers away. We make donations if we can, but most organizations have to pay something.”

Prices range from $50-$150 depending on what the group wants on the computers.

The Lazarus Foundation’s next project is PCs for Kids. Working through the school system and library, the program will give “deserving” kids who are enrolled in Howard County Schools the opportunity to have their own computers.

Murray says Ascend One welcomes the opportunity to support the group's “efforts to promote technology aptitude, increase student knowledge, help develop problem-solving skills and offer students an opportunity to demonstrate teamwork skills.”

Howard Bank President and CEO Mary Ann Scully says the Lazarus Foundation appeals to the bank’s charitable instincts for the same reason.

“They support both practical education for the youth of the county and access to information for those who would otherwise not be able to afford a computer,” she says.

“The connection formed between the two is unique and mirrors some of our efforts to provide access as well — to education, housing, business sustainability — through partnerships.”

Howard Bank is the county’s only locally owned and managed bank. It has established a Community Enrichment Program to address pressing issues facing the county, such as revitalization, workforce housing and sustainability, and has an extensive involvement in local nonprofits through leadership and financial support.

That involvement led Scully to bring together the Lazarus Foundation and the Domestic Violence Center with the bank providing refurbished computers and a personal money management training program for DVC clients.

Scully says the bank likes partnering with the Lazarus Foundation because “it’s small and works very much on a grassroots level.

“And Don Bard,” she adds, “is inspirational in his dedication to his mission.”

For information about The Lazarus Foundation, visit www.lazarus.org.