Any computer user has been there at one time or another: There’s nothing catastrophically wrong with the machine, but the darn thing just won’t work.
Instead of wasting hours on hold with a technical service or lugging the machine to a repair shop, the 400 residents of the Lenbrook retirement community on Peachtree Road have help as close as their phones. They just call the Geezer Squad.
This volunteer, computer-savvy group is made up of residents who come to the aid of others who are stymied by a frozen screen, unresponsive e-mail system, or other minor, technical emergencies. The concept was the brainchild of Jim Cochrane, a Georgia Tech grad who spent his professional career programming and designing computer systems.
“The Geezer Squad is not experts, and there are some things we can’t fix,” said Cochrane, 70. “But a lot of problems can be fixed without being an expert. Most likely, the thing’s not plugged in or the printer queue is stuck. And there’s no charge for what we do.”
The squad makes house calls and Cochrane handles the bulk of them since he’s not shy about passing his phone number and email around. Typically, he handles about 15 issues each month. And he’s now recruited volunteers knowledgeable on Apple systems to help him out.
Cochrane got the idea from a program already in place that has volunteers delivering packages to residents who are apartment-bound.
“That made me realize there was so much more we could do on a volunteer basis,” he said.
Cochrane had already established himself as a volunteer with computer expertise soon after moving to Lenbrook with his wife Bear three years ago. One of the first things he noticed was a classroom with tables, chairs and lots of electrical outlets, but not much else.
“It was perfectly configured for computer training, but it didn’t have any computers in it,” said Cochrane. “I talked the homeowners association into spending money for six computers and began teaching beginners. It turns out, when someone has a strong motivation to use email, they’ll learn it. That’s what usually brought people in – they wanted to email their grandchildren.”
Mary Fakharian, Lenbrook’s vice president of resident services, said Cochrane has even come to the aid of the property’s staff at times.
“He has a wonderful tech perspective that’s been such a benefit to the residents and the staff,” she said. “And it’s all self-driven. No one asked him to do this, but the residents have been so appreciative that they have someone on-site who can help them. It’s been delightful to talk to a 95-year-old who didn’t think she could learn something of this technological magnitude, and now she’s emailing her grandchildren. The man is absolutely amazing.”
Cochrane’s students, ranging in age from 70 to 95, go beyond just communicating online. He’s also teaching advanced beginner classes twice a week in three-week blocks and introducing sessions on the iPhone and Kindle as well.
And he’s not stopping there. He’s working closely with the management team to explore more WiFi options, and he’s busy assembling an online directory of all the residents. But it’s teaching others that gives him the biggest kick.
“When I began teaching the beginners, I had no idea about computer education,” he said. “But every time I teach, I learn new things myself. It’s a lot of fun.”