Local man hopes to turn cakes into computers

Eric Zimmerman, founder of The Buddy Project.

Eric Zimmerman is computer-savvy and enjoys all the benefits of modern technology, including the Blackberry that he carries with him at all times.

But the young man who has Asperger's Syndrome a form of autism knows that other people with special needs often have no access to the technology he enjoys.

So Zimmerman, 20, founded The Buddy Project, an organization that solicits used computers, refurbishes them and gives them to people with disabilities.

While working for Best Buddies International, Zimmerman, a 2005 Frederick High School graduate, processed membership applications and entered the information into a computer.

"I noticed that individuals with disabilities tended not to have an e-mail address," he said Wednesday. "And if they did list an e-mail address, it belonged to a caregiver or a parent -- It wasn't their own."

Access to computers helps people in many ways, Zimmerman said. They learn how to use computers and their many software programs, they can conduct job searches, and the Internet helps people stay connected socially.

The Buddy Project, which just marked its first anniversary, is a fledgling organization at best, and Zimmerman is pounding the sidewalks, recruiting financial support as well as the donation of discarded computers.

To raise funds and awareness about The Buddy Project, Zimmerman is holding a cake auction Nov. 14.

The event will include a silent auction with a variety of prizes, a Home Interiors show and live music.

Admission to the event is free, Zimmerman said.

"I hope people come in and buy cakes and other items," he said. "We don't want people to have to pay to come in to spend money."

Zimmerman has asked local bakeries to participate. He hopes to have 30 cakes, each with a duplicate. One will be for tasting, and the other will be the auction item.

In the first year of the project, Zimmerman has given about 30 computers to people with special needs, and has an additional 96 people on a waiting list.

The gift computers have gone to people ranging in age from 7 to 60, with disabilities like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism, he said.

He hopes to eventually raise enough money to buy new computers, but doesn't want to abandon his effort to collect used units.

"Many companies pay a recycler to dispose of their old computers," he said. "I provide a free service by taking them, and save them from being scrapped, keep them out of our landfills.

"I enjoy helping people with special needs, and I like seeing the looks of their faces when I give them a computer. And I'm doing the environment a service at the same time."

AT A GLANCE

  • WHAT: The Buddy Project Cake Auction
  • WHEN: 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. Nov. 14
  • WHERE: Zimmermans residence, 2107 Chestnut Lane, Frederick
  • COST: Admission is free
  • FOR INFO: Call Eric Zimmerman, 301-694-7250

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