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Superheroes Do Exist; At Least at United Way

After a long career with IBM, Patt Cowder, a Pennsylvania native, who moved to the Triangle 39 years ago with IBM, was still itching to get his hands on those crazy machines that we all either love or hate. When his wife passed away, Cowder thought he should spend his time doing something worthwhile, while also having fun and making a difference. So, he decided to use his expertise to his advantage.

Two years ago, while searching through the IBM On Demand Community, a volunteer portal for current employees and retirees, Cowder ran across a volunteer opportunity with United Way of the Greater Triangle’s Teaming for Technology program. Teaming for Technology (T4T) is a program dedicated to narrowing the achievement gap by bridging the digital divide. T4T provides refurbished computers to schools, education supporting nonprofits and their students.

“It’s fun to see who gets the computers and the people that come in and sign up for them,” said Cowder. “We don’t see many of the actual end users, but it is interesting to see the school systems that come in and get 20 or 30 computers to set up a computer lab. It’s interesting to see who gets them and to see a good way to use computers that someone in the past may have thrown away.”

Two years later and Cowder is a permanent fixture in the T4T warehouse, where he works on Mondays and Tuesdays for about seven hours a day. He has taken on the responsibility of refurbishing the laptops that are donated and loading an updated operating system onto them. If a laptop can’t be refurbished then he takes them apart and gathers the usable parts. His love for computers makes it even more fun.

“It’s fun to do things you’ve always wanted to do to your own computer, but you wouldn’t do it because you were afraid you’d break it,” said Cowder. “Well, you can do that here. And, I do this because it’s interesting and fun to do.”

Little did he know that his hard work and commitment to making a difference in the community would be recognized nationally. After serving 600 hours with T4T during 2011, Cowder was awarded the President’s Gold Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation (The Council) was established in 2003 to recognize the valuable contributions volunteers are making in our communities and encourage more people to serve. The Council created the President’s Volunteer Service Award program as a way to thank and honor Americans who, by their demonstrated commitment and example, inspire others to engage in volunteer service.

Now that he is retired, Cowder finds time to not only volunteer, but to enjoy the many hobbies and interests that he has enjoyed throughout his lifetime. Aside from volunteering with T4T twice a week, Cowder enjoys square dancing and choreographed ballroom dancing, which he participates in about four times a week.