LOW EXPECTATIONS: Growing up poor in Philadelphia, Kerwood spoke with a stutter and got Ds in school. Teachers told her she was developmentally disabled but helped little. "I was convinced I was stupid," she says.
A FRESH START: Moving to Oregon in her 20s, she saw a therapist who diagnosed her with high-functioning autism. In 1996, she enrolled at the University of Oregon, bought a used desktop computer—and discovered she had a knack for fixing it. Soon, she was spending hours repairing junked machines; she gave one to a 7-year-old girl she was counseling as part of her social work degree. Graduating in 1999—magna cum laude—Kerwood had found her calling.
NEXT STEPS: Working out of a garage with a few volunteers, Kerwood built her computer-repair charity into NextStep Recycling (www.nextsteprecycling.org). Since 2004, it has saved 750 tons of solid waste and donated 13,000 computers to schools, community centers and people who participate in a volunteer program. Taylor Hutchinson, 18, of Springfield, Ore., got his first desktop last summer. He uses it to research school assignments and, of course, play music. "This," he says, "is a big deal to me."
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