BROOKSVILLE — On a recent hot afternoon, Tucker Hollenbeck and Antonio Romaelle huddled over a picture of an Ethernet cable.
The high school students have spent past summers like many teenagers do — hanging out with friends, watching TV, dreading the imminent return to school.
But this summer, they've had a different opportunity for the three-month break: an internship where they learned how to build and refurbish electronics. The internship is part of the Computers for Kids program, which began at the end of the school year in a partnership between Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention program, and James Tomasello, the owner of Computer Corrections, a local electronics repair shop.
Residents can bring in old computers to be refurbished and given to Hernando County schools or students in need. Under the supervision of Tomasello, students like Hollenbeck and Romaelle, both 15 and students at Springstead High School, repair the computers.
During a recent session at Computer Corrections, the two boys, along with Matt Haddadin, a third Springstead student, listened to a presentation.
"Now, look at this," said Joe Granda, a friend of Tomasello's who owns a cable installation business called Granda Communications. The students watched as Granda held up the frayed ends of a glass fiber optic cable.
"Thinner than strands of hair," he said.
Their eyes widened.
The boys said they've always been interested in electronics and how they work. Haddadin and Hollenbeck were the first two to sign up for the unpaid internship program. Romaelle said he recently built his own gaming computer, using unreliable do-it-yourself YouTube videos to show him how. He said he feels more confident in his skills because of the internship.
"I know more now than I ever did," Romaelle said.
For Tomasello, the program has been just as rewarding.
"It's kind of exhilarating because they're very eager to learn," he said. "They just grasp the concepts and run with them."
So far, residents have donated about 90 computers, Tomasello said. Of those, roughly 30 contained all of the parts needed to function, and about 15 have been refurbished and given back to people for use. Tomasello has saved parts from the other computers so they can be reused in the future.
Even though the internship program ends when school starts next week, Tomasello said he's still taking donations at the shop and three other dropoff locations around the county — StoreRight Self Storage and Print Shack in Brooksville and All Tire & Wheel in Spring Hill.
Tomasello plans to bring back the internship program next summer. He hopes to invite more speakers from the computer and electronics industry, like Granda.
Back at the shop, after Granda finished explaining how a cable works, he gave the boys a chance to build their own.
Romaelle finished his and plugged it into a detector used to test its functionality. He, Hollenbeck and Haddadin leaned over the machine, waiting for the results.
Beep. The connection went through.
"Wow," Romaelle said, smiling. "It works."