Passion for computers inspired St. Joseph High School senior to volunteer |
Valley News Dispatch

Passion for computers inspired St. Joseph High School senior to volunteer

Michael Smith of Tarentum is a senior at Saint Joseph High School
Michael Smith of Tarentum is a senior at Saint Joseph High School

Michael Smith needed only 100 hours of community service to meet the requirement to graduate from St. Joseph High School next spring.

But he liked his time at Computer Reach so much, he just keeps running up the hours.

Smith recently was named “Volunteer of the Year’’ by the Pittsburgh Cares Foundation. His 112 hours at the nonprofit Computer Reach were the reason for his selection. He was honored at the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game Sept. 18 and threw out the ceremonial first pitch to the Pirate Parrot.

“It was an experience I’ll never forget,’’ said Smith, who plans to major in some kind of computer science in college. He hasn’t decided which school he will attend.

A Tarentum resident, Smith has reached and surpassed his graduation requirement to graduate, but he has no plans for the foreseeable future to stop volunteering at Computer Reach. He works there each Friday, helping to rebuild computers and educating those who don’t have computer experience.

Computer Reach is a nonprofit agency opened in 2001. It’s located in the Construction Junction building in the East End of Pittsburgh.

Sharing a passion

“I have a passion for learning about computers,’’ Smith said. “It’s exciting to share that passion with other people.’’

Smith helps deconstruct, rebuild and refurbish computers that are donated to users in 41 states and 39 countries. In the beginning, Computer Reach provided computers to food banks and homeless shelters. It has added senior care homes and low-income school districts to its donation lists.

Its motto is “Digital Literacy for All.’’ In addition to providing computers, its volunteers train people to use them.

That’s where Michael excels, according to Computer Outreach Executive Director Dave Sevick.

“(Michael) is good technically, but he is really good with people,’’ Sevick said. “He’s a leader, and that says something about his parents.

“He has a tremendous amount of patience. Once he got comfortable, he worked with adults and teenagers who need training on the computers.’’

Smith came to Computer Reach through a business relationship between Sevick and Smith’s father, Gregory.

Sevick worked as a computer consultant through Gregory Smith’s business, GS Retail Services. Michael Smith’s computer needed some work and he visited Sevick at Computer Reach.

Smith then registered as a volunteer through the Pittsburgh Cares Foundation and began his time with Computer Reach.

“I liked Computer Reach because I have a lot of passion for computers,’’ Smith said. “And they have a lot of passion for computers. I plan on volunteering there as long as they ask me there.’’

Computers a big part of life …

Computers are a big part of Smith’s busy life.

Smith learned the JavaScript computer program through a course at St. Joseph and a Python programming class through an online course on He also has a great deal of self-taught computer learning.

Smith’s computer ability goes past his work at Computer Reach. He has created video games for his own use and is currently building a new game that he wants to publish.

“It has the core components,’’ Smith said. “It’s a game with fighting and dodging enemies. I don’t have a name for it yet.’’

Smith also helped St. Joseph High School with a project for admissions.

Shane Palumbo, the school’s director of admissions, said they needed someone to learn how to edit an alumni panel for the school to use. After she asked around who would be interested to learn, it became clear there was one person qualified.

“Everyone I asked said, ‘You need to work with Michael,’” Palumbo said. “It turned out great.’’

St. Joseph teacher Michael Stitt taught Smith in economics and history over the last four years.

“He’s a conscientious student, but he has a lot of talents and interests,’’ Stitt said. “He sometimes has different insights in history issues.’’

… but not everything

Smith’s talents aren’t limited to just computers.

• He uses his ability to see the big picture as a center on the Allegheny Badgers Under-18 hockey team. He won the “Badger Award’’ for being with the team for 10 years. He will finish with 12 years in the organization after the end of his last season in 2020.

• He plays the drums, which started in middle school. He has played with Stitt, who plays guitar, at school events.

• He is a member of St. Joseph club Ultimate Frisbee Team, which began play last season.

• Smith was a programmer on a team that competed in the St. Joseph robotics competition last year.

Solves Rubik’s Cube in 20 seconds

Smith also has a talent that is a little less mainstream: He’s somewhat of an expert on solving Rubik’s Cube.

He can complete the task in about 20 seconds.

“I was sitting in bed one night and (the Rubik’s Cube) was sitting there and I thought, ‘I am going to learn to solve it,’’’ Smith said. “It took two to three weeks to solve it, but I was able to do it.’’

He first used the “Layer-by-layer’’ technique, then moved on to the advanced CFOP method of solving the cube.

CFOP stands for: Cross First two layers; Orientation of the last layer and the Permutation of the last layer. To show how difficult it can be, there are 41 cases to learn for each step of solving the puzzle.

But it’s all just an extension of Smith’s love for computers.

Smith’s mother, Laura, said the busy schedule and volunteering has really helped Michael mature

“It’s not only Computer Place,’’ Laura Smith said. “It’s working as a team and learning life skills. It’s been great to watch him grow.’’

Kevin Smith is a contributing writer.

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