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William A. Brooks, a junior at Haverhill High School, seated, gets the computer he built up and running with the help of Bob Bertoni, right, CEO of Megahertz Computer in Bradford.

"Life would be perfect if I just had a computer," said William A. Brooks, 17, about a month ago to Tamara Mendoza, one of his life skills coordinators at Safe Harbor Community Based Services.

Brooks volunteers at the Haverhill Library helping people use the computers, despite not owning a machine of his own, or even having a place to truly call home | until now.

Another life skills coordinator, Steve Perry, worked to secure funding to purchase the necessary hardware for a computer for Brooks. The next step was finding a local company willing to not only sell Brooks the parts, but help the Haverhill High School junior build his own machine.

Perry approached Robert Bertoni, CEO of the Bradford-based computer company MegaHertz, who leapt at the chance to help with such a "worthwhile" project.

"If it makes a difference for just one person, it's worth it," said Bertoni, whose company has been in operation for nearly eight years, selling customized computers, domain names and support services. "Normally we would just build it for him, but instead of handing it over, he learned how to build one himself and that instills self-esteem and satisfaction. I'll definitely continue to volunteer my time here."

After four hourlong classes with Bertoni, Brooks had a finished PC.

"I love it," Brooks said as Bertoni helped him install virus protection and other useful software. "It was a very interesting process because I had never really worked inside a computer before; the classes in school don't offer this type of hands-on experience."

The tower's sides are clear, allowing you to see the hardware inside. Inside glows red. The fans that cool the inside are backlit blue. It's fully equipped with the latest technology and newest Microsoft Windows operating system, Vista | Ultimate Edition.

Brooks' early life was far from perfect. His childhood was fleeting, as he overcame several challenges while bouncing from one foster home to the next. Then, last December, his Department of Social Services social worker, Gina Bartlett, found a home for the "kind and intelligent young man" in Safe Harbor's transition to independent living program. It offers Brooks and nearly 200 other children and young adults between the ages of 3 and 22 a second chance at a life of happiness, safety and stability.

Safe Harbor, a 30-year-old nonprofit organization, is funded through DSS and operates under Harbor Schools and Family Services, providing foster care, independent living and tracking services to youths and families in the care and custody of DSS, the Department of Youth Services, or the Department of Mental Health.

"(Bertoni) has been really great," Perry said. "He came every time and is planning further (classes) with us. This (computer building) idea is about taking things that are apart and putting them together to make it work. It's the same with these kids' lives; sometimes things get dismantled, but the kids can see it's always possible to put everything back together again."

Brooks now has a safe place to call home, a permanent school and a new job.

Safe Harbor relies on volunteers to offer parts of their homes as apartments for the independent living program. Brooks now has a rent-free apartment in Haverhill. The rent will be covered by Safe Harbor as long as he continues to meet certain requirements, such as pursuing higher education or job training, working and saving money.

Brooks, who aspires to work with computers, was recently hired as a bus boy at The Tap restaurant; a great first job for Brooks since he'd also like to operate his own club in the future.

"I know I'm going to college," Brooks said. "I want to be able to help other people like I've been helped."

According to program director Kelli Fish, Safe Harbor is a major part of DSS' overall commitment to get kids out of orphanages and into foster care families within safe communities where Safe Harbor or similar services can be facilitated with ease.

Fish added that Safe Harbor has grown so much that it had to relocate its offices from 375 Main St. to a two-suite spread in the Landmark Building on Merrimack Street.

Safe Harbor is always looking for volunteers to offer space in their homes for apartments, and for retired teachers to tutor youths of all ages. Monetary donations and donations of clothing are also graciously accepted. To volunteer or to find out more information about Safe Harbor's programs and services, contact program director Kelli Fish at 978-372-7796.

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