David Bruce McMahan, Philanthropist
Bruce McMahan’s daughter Cristina was attending a special education class in the Yonkers, NY school system when her teacher, Yvette Marrin, became interested in personal computers – then a new frontier of technology. Marrin saw potential in the product for her disabled kids. Like most schools, Yonkers couldn’t afford a computer, so Marrin tried a fund-raising picnic. She needed $2000. The picnic raised less than $200. McMahan put up the rest of the money to buy the computer, which was installed in Cristina’s classroom.
Soon, to everyone’s surprise, Cristina seemed to become another person. She became more outgoing, more adventurous. She took more chances. She suddenly took interest in things. Gradually, her family realized it was the computer that was making the difference.
Disabled people are constantly put at a disadvantage in society, but the computer is a great leveler. The computer gives them access to a world they can control, and where they are on a par with other kids.
McMahan’s Vision: From Disabled to Differently Abled
Bruce McMahan was greatly moved and impressed by the effect of one computer on Cristina and her fellow students. And then one of his early solo business ventures, a data processing service bureau, failed, a victim of the personal computer revolution. When McMahan liquidated, he got $40,000 – four cents on the dollar – for computers that had cost one million dollars three years earlier.
McMahan convinced Marrin to leave her teaching career – giving up tenure – to help him found the Cristina Foundation in 1984. The concept was simple: act as a clearinghouse for businesses to donate used computers to grass-roots organizations. McMahan and Marrin had to learn hard lessons about bureaucracies, people’s distrust of businessmen, and corporations’ reluctance to donate freely. McMahan learned to start with schools at the very top. He met with state governors, including then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The governers generally liked the idea and helped push it through.
Bruce McMahan and Yvette Marrin Co-Found The National Cristina Foundation (NCF)
The first formal NCF project was the collaboration with the Maryland State Dept. of Education in 1986. McMahan jump-started the process by donating 2500 personal computers to the State of Maryland. Teachers discovered that computers helped severely disabled children reach out to others. After this initial effort NCF developed a Re-use Systems Model, which is basic to the NCF donation program.
In 1996 NCF celebrated its tenth anniversary with an award ceremony to recognize two super achievers with disabilities: Harold Russell (Oscar Winner for his portrayal of a disabled vet in The Best Years of Our Lives) and Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the Internet, for their contributions to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Today, NCF has outgrown the ‘national’ in its name: not only is NCF involved in programs in all 50 states, it is now an international operation, with 400 programs world-wide. The Cristina Foundation supplies computer technology and training to people with disabilities, students at risk, and economically disadvantaged persons. It provides them the opportunities to lead more independent and productive lives.