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A Natural Instinct for Volunteerism

Times Staff Writer

Volunteer work seems to come naturally for Alex Miller, a Mar Vista teenager.

At 8, the articulate boy raised money for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles by working phones.

A few years later, he decorated Rose Parade floats during two winter breaks from school after his parents took him to see volunteers build floats.

In 2002, at an age when most teenagers are thinking about getting their driver’s licenses, Alex was coming up with ways to provide computers to young people in foster and group homes. He knew he could refurbish the computers himself.

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Earlier this year, between homework and football games, the Venice High School senior incorporated Komputers4Kids, a nonprofit organization based in his bedroom that does just what he set out to do.

“The idea behind it is if we can help one person succeed in bettering their education, then we have succeeded,” he said.

Miller has enlisted the help of fellow seniors Scott Antolick, a buddy from Venice High, and Michael Ayzen, who attends Palisades High School.

Miller works about 15 hours a week calling for donations, doing paperwork or updating the organization’s Web site -- www.komputers4kids.com. And about once a week, the three teenagers work out of Antolick’s garage on machines they have received from corporations and individuals. They sort through donated equipment. They erase memories and install operating systems and software.

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So far they have donated six computers.

Miller’s parents don’t know where their son’s volunteer spirit came from, but it’s a pleasant surprise.

“His dad and I both have real strong work ethics and community affiliations but nothing like what Alex has done,” said his mother, Elaine Miller, a psychotherapist.

“He has always been a kid who jumped in with both feet -- since he was very small -- into any situation. He just sort of perceived his help being useful to somebody.”

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To Miller it’s simple: He can help.

“For me there’s something very satisfying to know that I’ve been helping other people, especially when they do need it,” he said

The idea for Komputers4Kids came to Milller last fall as he and his mother pondered how to increase his volunteer work. He wanted to do more. He wanted to run his own nonprofit.

“I didn’t want it to be just a project,” he said. “I wanted it to be a full-blown nonprofit organization, so it could have legitimacy.” Over the next year Miller surfed the Internet and consulted with nonprofit contacts learning how to launch his organization.

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With the help of an attorney, he wrote the articles of incorporation.

Then he drafted Antolick and Ayzen to be his chief financial officer and secretary, respectively."I thought it was going to be a great experience to help out the community, the kids,” Ayzen said. “I knew from my experience how pretty amazing it is when you get a computer.”

Miller used a few hundred dollars out of his and relatives’ pockets to file paperwork with the California secretary of state and pay for other start-up expenses.When approval of his nonprofit status arrived in the mail in January, “I couldn’t believe he pulled it off on the first try,” his mother said.

“In the midst of all this, he was taking AP classes. He was studying for exams. So it was huge,” she said.

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They have received computer equipment, monitors, printers and keyboards, as well as non-computer-related donations, such as a flute.

They sold the instrument on EBay and put the earnings in the organization’s bank account.

Komputers4Kids made its first donations of five computers to foster children in the care of the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services and the David and Margaret Home, a social service agency that operates group homes.

Another computer went to an 18-year-old woman just leaving foster care whose mentor told Miller that she would be attending college.

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The personal computers were equipped with accessories such as CD-ROMs and modems.

“It means everything to the child,” said Dede Kuper, regional resources coordinator for the county department. “It allows them to feel that they have all the same educational opportunities that any other child would have.”

Miller, Antolick and Ayzen did not meet the foster children, but “even though we don’t see the reaction of the kids, we know what their reaction would be,” Ayzen said.

The need for computers for foster children is a great among social services agencies, Kuper said. She heard of Komputers4Kids through an e-mail being circulated among nonprofit groups.

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So far, Miller said, he has been contacted by 11 nonprofits requesting computers. And a couple of new requests arrive weekly.

The growing demand doesn’t intimidate him.

His plans include possibly studying computer engineering and law -- and running Komputers4Kids in his spare time.

“If I come out of college and can’t find a job,” he said, “then I’ll do it full time.”

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