ComputerWorks store manager John Kwalick helps turn old computers into something new.
ComputerWorks store manager John Kwalick helps turn old computers into something new.

When customers walk into the ComputerWorks store inside Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Lawrenceville location, they often ask for Johnny.

“The people just love him,” says Dennis Abbott, computer and electronics recycling manager. “He’s able to communicate with customers, no matter what age or ethnic group.”

Fan-favorite Johnny is John Kwalick, the ComputerWorks manager. In that role, he’s responsible for all the activities in the store, including pricing, customer complaints, refurbishing computers, and programming better systems for tracking work orders and handling other operational efficiencies.

Since coming to the store in 2009, he’s been popular with almost everyone who walks through the door. “He’s just so knowledgeable and has such great communication skills,” says Abbott, who manages Kwalick.

As it turns out, the feeling is mutual. “I love dealing with the customers’ issues and computer problems,” he says. “It’s something new every day; it’s never the same. I like the changing factor of it.”

Recycling = Job Training

Unlike other computer stores, which often have the goal to push out as many new units as possible, ComputerWorks focuses on refurbishing older computers whenever practical. “Other places just want to sell you a new computer,” Abbott says. “We’ll take the time to explain whether it’s viable to upgrade or not.”

Adds Kwalick: “Most of these older computers are still good and can do the same thing as a newer computer can for basic work.”

When upgrading isn’t possible, they recycle the parts through a partnership with Dell Reconnect, a computer-recycling program that’s kept more than 324 million pounds of e-waste out of landfills since 2004.

As a result, green jobs are created for people, with Kwalick’s position being just one example. “We think about recycling every day here,” he says. “It’s just part of the way we operate.”

The program also creates jobs for people with disabilities, who take apart the machines and categorize what’s inside so that recyclers don’t have to do disassembly down the line. In fact, donating one working computer to Dell Reconnect equates to 6.8 hours of job training for a Goodwill employee.

Next page: A Win-Win

By Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of publications, covering everything from sustainability to fitness to travel. Read more of her work here.