Dylan Zajac, a young entrepreneur from Hoboken, teams up with friends to buy old computers from thrift stores, fix them up, and sell them through eBay and Facebook.
In 2019, when he was just 15 years old, he created a profitable non-profit called Computers 4 People.
Computers 4 People volunteers collect, repair, and donate used computers, as well as accessories, including keyboards and monitors, to people and organizations in under-resourced communities throughout New Jersey and New York.
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The idea is to promote equity and access to opportunity, while at the same time creating a sustainable solution to the huge problem of electronic waste.
“We are associated with more than 80 non-profits and schools that nominate low-income individuals who need to apply for a computer,” explained Mr. Zajac. “Once approved by our application committee, clients receive their computers, allowing thousands to access job search, education, telehealth, and more.”
On August 15, Mr. Zajac plans to be in California to accept the $36,000 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award from the Helen Diller Family Foundation in recognition of his success in mobilizing peers to take collective, meaningful action in ” heal the world,” the translation of the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam.”
A rising sophomore at Babson College majoring in business, Mr. Zajac was nominated for the Diller Award by Nancy Sambul, a member of her family’s synagogue, Temple Beth-El in Jersey City.
Until then, he had never heard of the award, which is given annually to 15 American Jewish teenagers whose tikkun olam projects show significant initiative and leadership.
After a four-stage application and screening process, including video interviews with him and with three “recommendations” that confirmed the nonprofit nature of Computers 4 People, Mr. Zajac announced in June that he was one of the 15 winners.
“I’m very excited because not only will I be able to go to California in August and meet a bunch of other people doing the same jobs, but I’ll also get $36,000 to continue my project and expand it to where I want it to go,” he said.
He wants to increase the average number of donated computers from 60 to 100 per month, and he wants to open a new branch in the Boston area. Before starting college at Babson, Mr. Zajac was able to raise enough funds to hire a part-time onsite manager for the project. Now he can hire more employees.
Knowing that his ambitious plans would require more than award money, he scheduled a Computers 4 People fundraiser for August 25 at the Wicked Wolf Tavern in Hoboken.
Although other organizations repair and donate used computers, Mr. Zajac said Computers 4 People streamlines the process for all parties — donors, volunteers, and potential recipients. “I want to make it the smoothest, easiest way for donors and for clients,” he said. “So I built a whole system that takes all these applications and filters them, and then our committee reviews them and automatically sends decision emails to donors.”
The process for the recipients is also unique, he continued. Applicants seeking a free used computer must include a letter of recommendation from one of Computers 4 People’s partner organizations or schools confirming their eligibility. “We do not collect any financial information from the individual,” Mr. Zajac said.
On average, a donated computer reaches its new owner within a week.
Mr. Zajac is the son of Paul Zajac and Colleen Castle. The reason for his pivot from for-profit to nonprofit was his stepmother, Sally Bowman, he said. “He was working at a nonprofit in Brooklyn, and we were talking about a lot of people who need computers and can’t afford them. And I said how there’s a lot of e-waste being thrown away and all these companies don’t know what to do with the thousands of laptops that are thrown away every year. They end up badly recycled or go to a company like I did – repair and sell them.
“So I came up with the idea to collect all this e-waste, refurbish it, and then donate it to people in need.”
Ms. Bowman is the president of Computers 4 People’s board of directors. Dylan’s father, who works in the technology field, is a vice president.
While he was still a student at LREI — Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School in Manhattan — Mr. Zajac applied for 501C3 charitable organization status and established the Computers 4 People website. “I know how to do that because I’ve done websites for other businesses I’ve had,” he said.
“It built from there. I started making all these partnerships and then it started to snowball from there.
Mr. Zajac said the Jewish value of tikkun olam has always resonated with him. “I feel that you have a responsibility, if you can, to make the world a better place.”
A more personal drive to do good in the world is his legacy. “My great-grandparents all survived the Holocaust; they survived the camps or escaped and were in Russia during the war and suffered many tragedies,” he said. “Then, my grandparents and my dad were forced out of Poland in the 1960s for being Jewish . They were forced to go to Italy, and a Jewish organization helped them get visas to come to the United States.”
His grandmother, Anna Frajlich-Zajac of Manhattan, was an award-winning poet who taught Polish language and literature at Columbia University for more than three decades.
“Seeing my grandparents and my dad come here, and build a really successful life for themselves, inspired me to make a difference,” said Mr. Zajac.