Spirit of Giving Finds a Community Online: MSN’s Zone.com Members Rally to Get Computers to Kids

MOREHEAD, Ky., Dec. 19, 2002 — Eight years ago, health problems were forcing Richard Caudill, a physically challenged Vietnam-era veteran, to spend a lot of time in bed, often looking for something that would keep him busy. An avid online gamer and computer tech, Caudill was astonished one day to see the level of genuine intrigue on the face of a friend’s son when he was showing the child his old Pentium 100 computer.

“He got this ‘wow’ look in his eyes, and I got to thinking, this kid will never have a PC until he is out working on his own,”
Caudill recalls.
“So I decided to build him one.”
And so began a fulltime hobby — part-distraction, part-community activism– that has brightened the lives of hundreds of children in Eastern Kentucky.

As his health permits, Caudill rebuilds and services computers. Just how many children he has connected to computers, Caudill can’t remember.
“To be honest, I have no idea. I never really kept count,”
he says.
“I would guess in the neighborhood of 600-700. If you are a kid and you want one, just ask. It gets built eventually.”

There is no shortage of wanting, and the waiting list continues to grow. Caudill builds computers for each child on the waiting list; his only requirement is that the child or child’s family not be able to afford a computer on their own. Caudill constructs the new PCs in his home by rebuilding donated
hardware and software, some of which he receives through his connection with MSN’s official games site, Zone.com.
“I get packages from all over the U.S. with old parts and software in them,”
he explains.

The resulting system is
“nothing fancy,”
but it opens a door for less fortunate kids to learn about PCs, use them for homework and to play online games.

Providing the opportunity to enjoy the social interaction of online games is of keen interest to Caudill. He has been a member of MSN’s Zone.com since 1997. For the bedridden Caudill, Zone.com is his window to the world.
“I love visiting and working with others. To me, Zone.com is the ideal medium to interact with others.”

An avid gamer, Caudill — known on Zone.com by his handle, +DarksWarmth — plays a range of games on Zone.com, everything from classic card and board games to Age of Empires. He is also one of the 2,500 active users who make up the Zone.com Member Plus program which helps to ensure a positive environment for the site’s 30 million registered users. Member Plus participants enrich their own online games experience by undertaking a variety of activities on Zone.com, including assistance with chats, technical questions, tournaments and everyday gaming or game-play inquiries.

So far, the Zone.com community has responded. Two other Member Pluses donated enough computer parts from their store in Indiana to build complete systems to place in 17 homes, and provided additional parts that help fix several other computers. Other donations of software and hardware come from complete strangers who hear about the project. Caudill hopes that more word-of-mouth information sharing about the need will inspire this giving spirit.

“We love hearing stories like Richard’s; to really hear how people are connecting with each other at Zone.com,”
says Don Ryan, Zone.com Studio Head.
“We’ve got a large, diverse crowd who all have one thing in common — they love the social interaction, friendly competition and easy entertainment of online games.”

The range of more than 150 games available to play on Zone.com supports that diversity, and while the majority of the 15 million monthly unique users are from the U.S., the site has a global membership.
“We have a game for everybody,”
says Ryan.
“Our players love the opportunity to challenge someone across the globe — whether it’s to a game of spades, chess or Crimson Skies.”

Another favorite story of Ryan’s is a bi-continental love story that started with one Member Plus playing matchmaker for two other Zone.com members she met while volunteering in a Cribbage tournament room.
“It surprises people to find out that our membership is split evenly between males and females, and that our average player is 38-years-old,”
explained Ryan.
“Then you hear a story about love connection between a Canadian Zone.com member and a United Kingdom Zone.com member, and the strength of the relationships made within our community becomes obvious.”

For Caudill, the community at Zone.com is a personal support system, and a means to find more PC parts that allow him to continue introducing kids and computers, and invite kids to
“plunk around and learn.”
Caudill is looking for donations of anything that has to do with a basic PC system. Sound cards, video cards, motherboards, processors; he finds a way to make use of everything.

Rebuilding the computers makes Caudill feel useful, providing a purpose and a goal. Caudill claims none of the work he does would be possible without the help and support of others.
“I don’t want to change the world. Really I’m just a guy that helps as he can.”

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