For five years, Redondo Beach’s David Lombard has kept busy offering free in-home tech help for seniors and refurbishing donated laptops for those who lack computer access.
But now, Lombard has a new focus: The Laptop Elf Project.
The project’s goal is to supply local teachers with laptops for their students in districts that can’t provide enough — or any. Since he began working with educators in 2014, Lombard has donated more than 150 laptops, desktops and tablets to classrooms.
Lombard’s current task is to wipe the hard drives and reinstall operating systems on 30 computers for local students. He converts older Windows XP and Vista laptops to the Linux operating system with a Chromium browser.
He loads on the free Linux operating system so that teachers and students can access the programs they need without paying for Windows, Lombard said. The former aerospace and civil engineer said the setup works pretty much just as a Chromebook would.
He’s completed 11 so far and has 19 to go.
“I like to give laptops to teachers (because) those laptops are really going to be used,” Lombard said. “With all the different kids coming through the classroom year after year, a lot of kids are going to be able to put hands on those laptops and make good use out of them.”
Life as the Laptop Elf grew out of Lombard’s volunteer work at the Hermosa Five-O senior activity center. He noticed in 2013 the center had a couple of unused computers. The staff who taught computer skills had left, so Lombard started offering free lessons himself.
“It was hard to teach on those computers,” he said, “because they were different than the ones people had at home.”
So he started to tutor the seniors for free in their own homes. He got their printers working, fixed their WiFi connections and removed malware, he said.
Now he’s assembled a team of four to help those ages 50 and up with in-home computer use all over the South Bay — as far as Gardena and Westchester, Lombard said.
That gives him more time to focus on collecting, repairing and donating computers.
One of Lombard’s first computer donations was to a high school senior living in a battered women and children’s shelter in San Pedro. The recipient was tech-savvy but did not have his own computer. Having one “is key to getting things done today — I don’t know how you do without it,” Lombard said.
Eleni Marie Maureas, a sixth through eighth grade music and filmmaking teacher at Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet in Westchester, said she’s received six iMac desktops from the Laptop Elf since February.
“All we had were the one-to-one iPads for kids,” Maureas said, “but they didn’t allow me to teach all the lessons and techniques I wanted.”
Anna Baker, a kindergarten through fifth grade special education teacher at Dolores Elementary School in Carson, has received about 20 laptops within two years from Lombard.
She said students who do not have a computer at school that they can take home miss out on learning valuable life skills.
“These kids are at a huge disadvantage not having computers available to them,” said Baker. “The disparity is enormous between L.A. Unified (where I work) and Redondo Beach Unified where my kids go.”
In addition to teachers, Lombard also gives laptops to nonprofits who work with people who are homeless or formerly homeless. They can use the computers for resume-writing and job-hunting.
But the need for laptops in classrooms is ongoing, said Lombard, who added that he’s accepting iPads and Kindles.
In January, the Laptop Elf said, he’ll ask real estate companies to donate their old devices.
The elf works all year, Lombard said, just like the teachers do.
Contact David Lombard at email@example.com to donate used Windows and Mac laptops, as well as iPads, Kindles and tablets.