TJ High Students Refurbish Old Computers for Area Families

The Reboot for Youth team,  (l to r)  Christopher Cao, Shrikant Mishra, Peter Zhao, Arun Bhattasali and Griffith Heller, work refurbish computers. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)
The Reboot for Youth team, (l to r) Christopher Cao, Shrikant Mishra, Peter Zhao, Arun Bhattasali and Griffith Heller, work to refurbish computers. (Photo: Patricia Leslie/News-Press)

Recycle, refurbish, refresh, renew, reboot, reward.

That old laptop or desktop that’s been lying around your house or office that you’ve been meaning to take to the county landfill?

Instead of taking it there, you can take it the boys at Reboot for There’s no charge for them to take it off your hands, and they’ll turn your trash into someone else’s treasure.

Reboot for Youth is a non-profit that restores computers for area families who don’t have the financial means to buy a computer for their children to use for school work.

The brainchild of Christopher Cao and his friend Griffith Heller, Reboot for Youth was started last year as a way to use the boys’ technology skills.

While tutoring an elementary school student, Cao saw firsthand what the lack of a home computer can mean. “We wanted to reach out to the community,” he said.

And Cao, and his tech team, are doing just that. On paper they may seem like a bunch of 20-somethings, but they’re 15- and 16-year-old sophomore advanced computer science students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. They gather at the school on Wednesdays, during eighth period, to work and meet at Heller’s house on Saturday afternoons to work on Reboot.

There they review weekly goals and refurbish computers. Cao said the team erases all the data from donated computers, removing any confidential information, and installs Microsoft Office or Linux systems.

Reboot’s Arun Bhattasali said it’s easy to apply to receive a computer, make donations or nominations for needy families  made by others on Reboot’s website,

Since launching last November, Reboot has delivered restored computers to 77 families with 112 students. They like to meet the families personally in a public setting to give them a tutorial on using the computer. “That’s so important,” Cao said.

Because of the amount of donations they have gotten so far, they have not had to buy any parts, using what they have on hand. In December, they received 30 Dell computers from Virginia Student Training and Refurbishing Program.

The team members all began “fooling around” with computers years ago – Heller said he thinks he started while he was in kindergarten. They find computers are “easy to fix up and customize,” he said.

Reboot is not limited to Jefferson students. The team is close to signing up a student from W.T. Woodson High School, and they are looking for girls in particular to join to their cause.

“It’s hard to find girls” in this line of work, Heller said, but the group said that one has applied to be a tech assistant.

Parents are an important ingredient of the Reboot mix for they provide the wheels, the space, the pizzas and the time to help make it happen. They pick up and deliver the Reboot team, the computers they work on and fuel that keeps them going.

Denise Huynh, Cao’s mother said that her son loves computers. She considers herself “the feet” for her two sons. Kevin, Christopher’s older brother, is a student at the University of Virginia. He co-founded Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education (GIVE), where Christopher Cao tutors every Saturday afternoon. Huynh said that she’s proud of both of her sons.

“I am a single mom, but anywhere they need to be, I’ll be there,” Huynh said.

“In a way, it’s very humbling that Christopher can help the community by saving electronics and helping the environment, and turn them [computers] into something so useful for lower-income families.”

For more information on how to donate to Reboot for Youth, visit, e-mail or call (703)-269-8461.