Using Tech Expertise to Give Back

We were intrigued when we got an email from Jerry Robbins. He’s a 35-year-old Kansan who’s currently looking for work, but he’s not the sort to sit around and wait for the phone to ring. His commitment to his family and community keeps him busy: He provides creative input and technical support to his parents’ two small businesses and volunteers at CLEAR, Johnson Community College’s program for disabled students.

Jerry, student and case

Jerry Robbins (right) with a friend from the Clear program.

Initially, Jerry was teaching basic computer skills and providing technical support to the group at CLEAR, but he’s wound up wearing many hats. He’s been known to clean and repair peoples’ glasses and, despite a self-professed lack of rhythm, step in when needed to give a ballroom dance lesson. He also finds content online that fits teachers’ curricula, has taught a class in movie soundtracks, helped start another class that features video games and designs PowerPoint backdrops for school productions.

As if his volunteerism weren’t enough to endear him to us, his geek worthiness is ten-fold. Jerry is a prodigious collector of comic books and action figures, still has a PS2 and plays it, loves retro video games and is an avid reader. He also carries an impressive “briefcase” to his work at CLEAR. It’s not just filled with every useful gadget you could imagine; it’s a visual feast, decorated to honor his passions and interests.

He’s a great communicator and problem solver, who has A+ and Security+ certifications and is also looking forward to training with Cisco.

When did you first realize you were interested in computers?

When I was in high school I worked part-time at Sears and with my employee discount, my father was able to purchase our family’s first computer. After that, both he and I got hooked and started building our own systems. I didn’t know much about troubleshooting computer issues so I had to learn on my feet and through that realized that not only could I do it but I was really good at helping others. I always hated dealing with tech people who talked down to me when I needed assistance, and I swore that I would never do that to anyone. I think that’s the secret to my success in working with other people. I can help by dealing with their tech issues and at the same time, alleviate their frustration about it.

How did you get involved with CLEAR?

My younger sister Jennifer is Autistic, so I’ve been around individuals with disabilities for years. I had initially found out about the CLEAR program through another community program I had volunteered for. When I contacted CLEAR’s director, my reputation preceded me. She had already heard of me from several of the students. I was able to interview right away and start the following week. That was about seven years ago and ever since, I have been helping out every Saturday they’re in session.

When you’ve assisted disabled students, have you ever modified a computer or manipulated a system to make things easier for them?

Over the years, I’ve found that our students’ main issue with technology is the lack of people that they can talk with about it, or who take the time to understand them. This has helped to shape my style. I’m really patient and speak in a way that allows us to communicate as effectively as possible. I’ve also helped institute a peer program where I’ve matched higher functioning students with those who need greater assistance.

While I’ve worked with students who use higher tech programs and devices, we don’t always have access to that sort of stuff, so part of my job is finding ways to be able to use what we have readily available. I also bring in my own laptop, game system, MP3, etc., so they can better learn to access and interact with those kinds of materials.

What kind of business do your parents run and what kind of troubleshooting have you done for them?

My parents currently have one small business and one startup. I provide software and hardware technical support to both. The small business is called Associated Energy Technology, where we do machining. We’re also working on a turbine that produces electricity from both wind and water. I help out with everything from typing legal forms, to creating PowerPoint presentations and other informational materials, to digitizing technical drawings and charts and creating videos that showcase our prototype model.

The startup business we are currently working on is called Alternative Currency. It offers small amounts of gold and silver mounted on credit card-sized carriers that are affordable enough for anyone to own. I put together the website and created the product images.

So what’s in that ‘briefcase’?

You mean what isn’t in it? I never know from week to week what I’ll need to accomplish, so I try to prepare as best I can. For starters, I have electronic cleaner spray, canned air, a mini tool kit, flash drives, Micro SD cards, a portable DVD player, movies, an MP3 player, a CD Boom Box, my laptop and my PS2 with games.

Jerry's briefcase, close up

Jerry’s briefcase, close up

Your case is pretty wild to look at. What’s it all mean?

I designed my case to be a visual representation of me. Each item on it reflects a part of who I am. For example, I have a Scooby Doo plush, a Chipette plush, a Smurf plush and a My Pet Monster. All of these are from when I was a kid. I’m a child of the 80’s after all. My Yoda plush, Jawa plush, Star Trek TNG patch, and Terminator T-800 all represent my love of Sci-Fi. My Marvel and DC patches — comics and reading. The Masonic symbol (yes, I am a Mason), Masonic pin with the American flag and cross, represent my love of God, country, and as importantly, my commitment to doing my part to help those in the community where I live and work.

Tell us about your history with comic books.

Briefcase overviewI’ve been reading comics since I was a child. My birth mother, who passed away when I was 13, started buying them for me to encourage me to read. I love to collect graphic novels and will often go to Half Price Books looking for them. Some of my favorites in my collection are the complete set of Marvel Zombies, The Death and Return of Superman, The Infinity Gauntlet, The Blackest Knight (I’m still collecting this series), Spiderman: The Ben Reilly Years Book 2, The Red Hulk series, The Dark Avengers, and The Dark Knight Returns.

How about video games?

I still have a PS2 and I like to play Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, GTA 3, Dragonball Z Budokai 1-3, and the Capcom, Sega, Midway and SNK retro collections. I like the Mortal Kombat and retro collections because these are games I grew up with and it’s nice to relive my old arcade days. I like the Dragonball Z series because I have been a fan of anime for some time and the GTA series because it’s nice to let go from time to time and as Prince said “Let’s go crazy.”

For the win… books, movies, music?

Some of my favorite works are Naked Lunch, American Psycho, Fight Club, Fifty Shades of Grey, 1984, War of the Worlds, Sigmund Freud: Select Writings, Jaws, Frankenstein and Faust.

Movies: Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn, Hackers, Fight Club, Kentucky Fried Movie, Young Frankenstein, Godzilla: Final War, The Hellraiser series, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Hard Boiled and American Psycho.

I have a wide range of musical taste too. Lately I’ve been listening to AC/DC, Megadeth, Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Beethoven, Wagner, Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, The Crow soundtrack, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald and the Talking Heads.

What kind of work are you currently looking for?

I’m seeking a position where I can use my IT troubleshooting skills to the fullest while continuing to expand my knowledge base.

Anything you’d like to add?

As long as I have the floor — I want to thank my father, Jon Robbins, for his service to this country (he’s a retired Marine) and for pushing me to use my talents to the best of my abilities, and to my mom, Jodi Robbins, for being there for me no matter what. And of course my sister, Jennifer. She helps me realize that life is not always meant to be understood, sometimes just accepted.

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