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August 19, 2014

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Benefactor, schoolchildren both benefit from ‘paying it forward’

Kidney failure led Las Vegan to start foundation that donates computers to students

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Christopher DeVargas

John Iasiuolo, founder of the Outlook Foundation, shows 8-year-old Ashley how to set up her new computer, Friday, March, 15, 2013. The Outlook Foundation is a nonprofit that donates computers to military families and underprivileged youths.

The Outlook Foundation

John Iasiuolo, founder of the Outlook Foundation, shows 15-year-old Zach how to set up his new computer, Friday, March, 15, 2013. The Outlook Foundation is a non-profit that donates computers to military families and underpriveleged youths, Launch slideshow »

John Iasiuolo had to be pushed to the brink of death to discover his calling in life.

It all happened suddenly on Dec. 7, 2007. He had just finished recording his radio show, “Computer Outlook,” when something felt off. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew he needed to go to the hospital.

The last thing Iasiuolo remembers from that day is walking into the emergency room. The next day, he woke in a dialysis room to an astonished doctor. Iasiuolo’s kidneys were failing.

“Oh my God, you’re alive,” he recalled the doctor telling him.

Iasiuolo looked at it as a second chance at life. That’s when the idea became lodged in his head and began to grow. He didn’t know what it was, but he knew there was something he had to do involving the phrase “Pay it forward.”

Then one day, it came to him: He’d use his connections in the computer industry to donate refurbished computers to underprivileged children and military families. In 2011, he and his wife, Christine, founded the Outlook Foundation, forever changing Iasiuolo’s life and the lives of hundreds of children and families in the Las Vegas Valley.

“Unfortunately, but fortunately, I had to get sick with kidney failure to have that philanthropy in me come out,” Iasiuolo said. “I think everybody has it in them, but it takes something to bring it out.”

Two years later on a typical Friday afternoon, two children are scheduled to visit Iasiuolo’s spacious home/office to receive a computer.

The children who visit come from all backgrounds. Sometimes they are foster kids; other times they have a mental disability or come from a low-income family. All are important to Iasiuolo, and meeting them is his favorite part.

On this day, his first visitor is a bashful second-grade girl named Ashley who can’t stop smiling. Christine Iasiuolo leads Ashley and her family into the office, where John Iasiuolo (aka Mr. John to the children) is waiting with Ashley’s computer.

“Where’s Ashley?” Mr. John says, feigning ignorance. “Are you Ashley?”

The bit works. Ashley giggles as she steps forward from her parents toward Mr. John to let him know it’s her. Then, before Mr. John teaches Ashley the basics of the computer or lets her take it home, Iasiuolo asks Ashley to make a promise – the same one Iasiuolo asks every recipient to make.

Ashley must pay the kindness forward.

The condition is the cornerstone of Iasiuolo’s program. He wanted a way to reach everybody who needed help but quickly realized it’d be impossible for him to do so on his own. Pay it forward, however, creates a chain of good will that goes on and on.

He says countless children call him back days later to tell him how they helped an elderly woman with groceries or mowed a neighbor’s lawn.

Iasiuolo’s other requirement is that the child must be on a free and reduced-price school lunch plan to receive a computer. The condition stemmed from his desire to help underprivileged kids he refers to as “his children” just as Jerry Lewis does of youngsters suffering from muscular dystrophy.

Fifty-six percent of Clark County School District students are eligible to receive a free or reduced-price school lunch. Many of those students come from families where computers are a luxury that can’t be afforded. Today, that could mean the difference between a student receiving A’s and B’s, and C’s and D’s.

“(Computers) are vital. They’re just a key part of education,” said Debbie Tomasetti, who is in charge of Clark County School District’s “Reclaim Your Future” initiative, which helps at-risk teens. “Back in my day, it was the dictionary or encyclopedia. Now they need to have access to (computers) ... and know how to use it.”

The Outlook Foundation donates about 48 refurbished computers each month to underprivileged children. All made possible because of Iasiuolo’s relationships with high-ranking executives at Dell and Lenovo from his radio show. The organizations have donated hundreds of used computers for him to refurbish.

Tomasetti said the computers have had a huge impact on students.

“(A program coordinator) at Clark High School couldn’t share enough of the gratitude students had for the computers,” Tomasetti said. “They were just overwhelmed that somebody in the community would give them a computer.”

Reaching these children is what drives Iasiuolo and helps him power through his dialysis five days a week.

“When you give (a computer) to a child, they act like it’s the last tablet in the world,” Iasiuolo said. “The expression on their face is just remarkable.”

His eyes water each time he tells a story about how a child has been helped by a computer. Like how it helped a boy with Asperger’s syndrome communicate with his father. The child had finally reached out to his dad by typing “Help me daddy” on the computer.

Or how a computer helped connect siblings separated in foster care. Iasiuolo can spend hours telling similar stories.

“I get emotional with every one I give out, because it’s (from my heart),” Iasiuolo said. “... People need to understand ... (starting a foundation) is not about the money. You gotta be thankful for what you have and give to those that need.”

Iasiuolo said he’s always been a person with big ideas, often joking that he’s always two years ahead of his time. Every job he’s held, including his radio show, originated as one of his ideas. But this one has meant the most to him.

Christine Iasiuolo said she was not surprised it came to her husband even as he began fighting his kidney failure.

“That’s John,” Christine Iasiuolo said. “He’s just ahead of his time. He’s always thinking.”

The last child Mr. John helped on that Friday afternoon arrived shortly after Ashley left. He is Zachary Thomas, a 15-year-old freshman at Legacy High School who is one of six children in a household with only one computer.

Zachary is quiet initially, but Mr. John’s boisterous personally coaxes Zachary to talk about his grades and favorite classes. Later, after Mr. John makes him promise to pay the kindness forward and he can take the computer home, Zachary opens up.

Just before Zachary leaves, he turns around – eyes welled with tears – and hugs Mr. John.

“Thank you,” Zachary says. Mr. John tears up with him and responds inaudibly.

Moments like that are what Iasiuolo lives for.

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