Paying it Forward, One Computer at a Time

Sailor teaches, gives out computers to less fortunate families

Article originally published in All Hands Magazine by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua E. Walters

In the 1990s computers became popular because they were cheaper and smaller than ever before. There was a computer in most households across America. Adults and their kids would use them on a daily basis. However, not everyone could afford a computer or had a chance to use one until later in life. Sonar Technician Surface 1st Class Reynaldo Reyes, stationed aboard USS Freedom (LCS-1), and his family were among them.

Video by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua E. Walters

His parents, who emigrated from Mexico, worked tirelessly to provide for their family. Reyes’ dad worked two jobs, while his mom worked at her job and looked after him and his siblings. With money so tight, they couldn’t afford luxury items such as a computer. It wasn’t until he was about 13 his family scraped together enough money to buy a computer. Growing up, Reyes experienced their struggles to better their family first hand, and he watched them struggle to learn how to use that computer.

“My parents struggled a lot just because they lacked the capability to understand how computers work,” said Reyes, a native of Santa Anna, California. “It was all struggles that they definitely didn’t need to go through or could have easily been surpassed because of understanding how the Internet works or how a computer works or how to type up a resume.”

The Navy set Reyes on a new path, one he would have never imagined. As a result of his new opportunities, he’s been able to start on his bachelor’s degree, change his life around, and figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Still, he never forgot where he came from and the challenges his family faced. He had a desire to help people who were less fortunate, so he started volunteering in 2014.

Navy Sonar Technician Surface 1st Class Renaldo Reyes

“I definitely wanted to give back, especially to those people I see struggling with the same things I struggled with or my parents struggled with when I was growing up,” Reyes said.

After thinking about the hardships he and his family went through, he wanted to do something with computers. After all, as a sonar tech, Reyes said he already works on what is basically an oversized computer.

“I wanted to see what I could do with computers and see what programs were open, and that is when I found Computers to San Diego Kids,” said Reyes. “They do everything from refurbishing computers to helping needy families and giving them out at a discounted rate. They also hold trainings for computer illiteracy at the county libraries, which I take part in.”

While the organization is called Computers to San Diego Kids, it’s for anyone who wants to learn how to use a computer. The class he teaches helps people of all ages who might not know anything about computers to people who already know how to use the Internet.

“The age groups really vary at every class, but some people show up not knowing how to setup an email,” said Reyes. “Some people show up knowing how to work Microsoft Office and Internet Explorer, but every time I have taught a class, it has been beneficial to the learners. I know I have taught people how to write a resume or just figure out how to find that template. So, everyone’s skills basis varies, but they definitely leave there knowing a lot more than they came in.”

Navy Sonar Technician Surface 1st Class Reynaldo Reyes volunteers by helping people learn valuable lessons about computers.

One of Reyes’ most memorable times teaching for Computers to San Diego Kids was when he had the opportunity to teach an older gentleman from Mexico who struggled getting a job in America because he didn’t know how to use a computer. When he walked in to the class Reyes was teaching, it was the man’s first time interfacing with a computer.

He had worked at a power plant in Mexico while supporting his wife and kids who have been living in San Diego. He told Reyes how he moved to San Diego to spend more time with his family. Once he moved, he tried to find a job doing the same thing he was doing in Mexico. He had all of his certifications for working in a power plant, but it didn’t mean anything to anyone unless he applied for the job online. With money running low, he lost his house and family.

“I had to start from the actual start button. When he left, he came pretty close to losing it. He didn’t know he lost everything in his life because of one hurdle,” said Reyes. “He gave me and the other instructor a hug and told us how happy he was that he showed up to the class.”

“That is the one I will always remember: How accomplished I felt by showing him the skills he needed to use a computer, showing him what Google was, and how to search for a job online. He was beyond happy and relieved that he was that much closer to getting that job he once had,” Reyes said.

With all of Reyes experiences through his childhood and seven years in the Navy, he feels one of his greatest sense of accomplishments is helping people learn how to use computers.

“It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like, ‘Alright, I did something great for the community so that way it is beneficial to everyone.’ It’s easier to track kids when you know what they are doing or how they’re doing. It’s easier to get a better job when you know how to apply for one. So, whatever skills that I may teach, I’m hoping that it carries them to the next level where they need to be with their lives,” Reyes said.

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