Senior volunteers help change lives one computer at a time



Bobbi and Ric Lasher work in the disassembly area at Computers Advancing Education, salvaging what parts can be used and recycling what cannot.

SENIOR LIFE Dan Reigada

What started as a small project to build a computer from used spare parts for one child, has since turned into an ongoing endeavor that has provided computers for 34,000 students.

Each Tuesday at Titusville’s old Whispering Hills Elementary School, a group of volunteers meets to change lives through Computers Advancing Education, a nonprofit organization. Mainly retirees, the volunteers upgrade donated computers, then give them to local schools, teachers, students and those who need a computer, but are unable to afford one.

“The primary focus is to supply every student with the tools needed to compete in today’s highly technological society,” founder 

Fremont “Freebie” Bassett said.

To date, the organization has supplied those tools to more than 34,000 students. It also has set up computer labs in 25 Brevard County schools.

Many of these young recipients have shown their appreciation with thank-you notes, crowded onto a “bragging wall.”

Businesses and individuals who donate the equipment make it possible.

Bassett traced the organization’s beginnings to 1997, when he was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery. His son made an observation, “Dad, you look bored.”

To alleviate this, the father and son teamed up for a project at their kitchen table. From spare parts, they built a computer for a young student whose father was working in Egypt.

“We gave it to him for Christmas, so he could communicate with his father,” Bassett said.

At the time, his wife Linda was working for the Brevard County school system.

Word spread among teachers who needed computers for their classrooms and the operation moved into Bassett’s garage, then to a spacious auditorium at its present location.

Volunteer Bobbi Lasher recalled a mom who came in with two middle-school age daughters.Computers Advancing Education volunteers Carrie Creasy, left, Phil Turner, John Phipps, founder Freebie Bassett and Loni Phipps give a tour to Mims  Elementary School third-grader Bella Mitchell. <i>  | Photo by SENIOR LIFE Linda Wiggins <i/>

“She asked if this was the place where she could get computers and how much they would cost,” Lasher said. “When she was told the computers were free, the mom was amazed, saying she couldn’t believe it and that no one does anything for free.”

That story is but one of thousands that inspire volunteers such as Charles Chieppa. “We are a tight, eclectic family. What we do is fulfilling,” he said.

Computers Advancing Education meets from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Tuesday at 800 Lane Ave. (Whispering Hills Elementary School) in Titusville. Volunteers are welcome. SL

For information, call 321-252-5519 or go to computersadvancingeducation.org.