ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with Bill Hill, veteran librarian, Grand Rapids Public Library

Posted in conversations, feedback, planning, players by forgr on March 31, 2008

On Friday, March 21st, I caught a quick lunch with Bill Hill from the Grand Rapids Public Library. I had contacted him about a week or so ago prior inquiring about the Public Library’s computer usage. I asked really specific questions in an email:

• Who are your internet station patrons? And if you were to speculate, why are they there?
• What are your hopes for the community and each citizen’s involvement with the technology?
• What are the library’s largest technological pain points?
• How many people log on to internet stations per day?
• What are your peak usage times during the week, the weekend?
• What is your itrain class attendance like for each session?
• If there was one thing that would boost your class attendance, (if that’s what you want) what would it be?
• What’s missing in the community, what’s the largest need?

So, when I finally met with Bill, he expressed that answers to most of these questions are not available. They keep the program moving, and continue to upgrade their machines because their mission is to provide the means for the community to learn about themselves and their world. The internet, like books, magazines, and movies is another tool to aid in this goal. They dont track usage, they don’t have any real analytics programs keeping track of things.

They only count the number of sessions and unique page visits.

Bill also told he about himself, his involvement with the library and various programs he’s involved with there, this one, this one, this one among others. I initially wanted to talk with him because he’s lived in this city for quite some time, he’s worked at the library for years, and he’s actively engaged in the community at many levels.

I told him about our project, about the parts, pieces, people and plans. He listened, soaked it all in, asked a few questions.

He then gave some of the first negative feedback our project has received. He described many efforts that the community had tried to start up, and subsequently failed at, namely open computer labs. He expressed that it was likely than individuals would steal machines, sell them and then come back for more. He warned that I might be too optimistic, and to keep a realistic head on my shoulders throughout the project.

But it didn’t get me down. I knew going in that it was going to be rough. I know that there are going to be problems. All the more reason to try it, give it a genuine run, and see what happens. We’ll never know until we try.

As we wrapped up our lunch, I had asked him if he would be willing to stay in the conversation, and he said sure, but might better be able to help me by assisting with initial grant writing exercises.

A little bit ago, Bill emailed me following up afterwards,

>     I enjoyed meeting you very much, but I fear I left you with more of a
>     negative reaction than I felt or intended. Your mission to help less
>     advantaged folks gain more independence is sacred stuff.  I admire
>     your passion for this work, and hope I will be able to contribute something
>     from the library.

And then in another email said this,

>     We share much the same goal, to empower people by giving them free
>     access to information, and we do offer classes on using the internet and
>     word processing, although our next round of those wont arrive till
>     Fall.  You take it a step further than we ever will be able to, by
>     wanting to provide your clients with their own laptops. But our goals
>     have much in common overall.

Very nice conversation and correspondence, and just the right touch of reality to keep me fighting for this project.

Thank you Bill for the conversation, and I hope to talk with you soon about grants, and the future.

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A Conversation with Patrick Shaffner, 826 CHI Outreach Coordinator

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, physical presence, planning by forgr on March 30, 2008

I spent the weekend in Chicago with some friends (taking a break from writing, but not from thinking). I dragged all five of my friends into “The Boring Store” which is a store front for the nonprofit writing workshop 826 CHI. You guessed it, it’s part of the 826 network of workshops started by Dave Eggers and friends.

The front is a spy supply store (disguises, gadgets) and the back is the one on one tutoring and writing workshop.

I was fortunate enough to catch Patrick, the Outreach Coordinator for the local 826 CHI program. He gave me, and my educator friend Wendy, a tour of the store, the writing workshop, and the back offices.

There are four full time employees, and over 600 volunteers. They offer a suite of programs to the community youth, you can find out more about them here.

I actually called Patrick about a month ago, asked him to tell me a little more about the program’s day to day workings and organization, and told him about the project that we were starting here in Grand Rapids. He remembered us when I mentioned the digital inclusion project and jumped up and down.

He said, “No, don’t start it in Grand Rapids, move here and start it here in Chicago!” I laughed, but he meant it, he said computer literacy is a huge issue in Chicago schools, and in the community at large. We agreed that it’s really a big problem across the nation, there’s no real way to get the guided tour through the whole experience.

There are those who:
know what a computer can do
know what they want to do with it
know what questions to ask at a store
can afford the computer
can get one-on-one attention to learn new tools
can get the computer fixed if it breaks
know how to get the right upgrades, new software
can excel on their own terms with the right tools
can expand their reach

And then there are those who have limited access, are behind the curve, under-served, poor, embarrassed, limited, left behind, scared or intimidated. We should serve that second set of individuals.

Talking with Patrick (who works with a similar set of children) made me realize that there is a large set of individuals who actually want to be served. There is a thirst and it can be quenched.

In 826’s experience 35 to 40 hours a year of one-on-one attention, can raise student’s grades up one level.

Dave Eggers talks about starting 826 Valencia in this TED video.

Initially they started the workshop and pirate supply store and no one came in. An obvious trust issue. So they talked with a teacher friend and make her the executive director, and started going directly into the schools and talking with teachers about their needs.

The program was then a success, now they serve in classrooms and in the workshop. They are an anchor in their community. They have volunteers and employees who have flexible hours available during the school day and just after. They created their network of volunteers out of graduate students, writers, educators, and thinkers. All of these people are able to give just a few hours a month, and make a huge difference being able to shine a light on a child and their work.

So, brilliant. Yes. I got a serious boost from talking with Patrick. And now I know, we need to keep up the conversation with teachers, we’re headed in the right direction.

Wendy, my educator friend who toured with me yesterday, wants to volunteer there now. She’s got the Summer off and wants to do something other than graduate school, and beach lounging. 826 CHI will also help her students next semester too. She’s pumped about it.

Patrick, the Outreach Coordinator, wants to be kept up to date on when our program is coming to Chicago :-)

It’s great having existing programs nearby, and being able to visit and talk with them is absolutely wonderful. Thank you Patrick for your time and encouragement.

Pledge at fundable.com

Posted in donations, fundraising, pilot by forgr on March 25, 2008

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To get the “Digital Inclusion in Grand Rapids, MI/Forgr” Laptop Pilot Program off the ground, we need a small amount of money for materials. We’re hoping to present our project to the Mayor Heartwell (of Grand Rapids, MI), Governor Granholm, the Grand Rapids Public School Board, and the Community Media Center among others.

We estimate the cost of printing copies of the business plan, copies of supporting materials, postage, domain registration, and site hosting to cost approximately $240.

If you believe in this project, you have to power to see it bloom and grow. Pledge a little here at fundable.com (and you only pay if we get 100% of our pledges). If you can’t pledge, comment on a blog post, seriously (we need opinions too!).

Thank you to all of you who have helped us get to this point, your feedback has been so helpful in forming this program.

Marie-Claire

Collapsing Benchmarks?

Posted in benchmarks, potential problems, wifi by forgr on March 24, 2008

New York Times: Hopes for Wireless Cities Fade as Internet Providers Pull Out

“EarthLink announced on Feb. 7 that ‘the operations of the municipal Wi-Fi assets were no longer consistent with the company’s strategic direction.’ Philadelphia officials say they are not sure when or if the promised network will now be completed.

For Cesar DeLaRosa, 15, however, the concern is more specific. He said he was worried about his science project on global warming.

‘If we don’t have Internet, that means I’ve got to take the bus to the public library after dark, and around here, that’s not always real safe,’ Cesar said, seated in front of his family’s new computer in a gritty section of Hunting Park in North Philadelphia. His family is among the 1,000 or so low-income households that now have free or discounted Wi-Fi access through the city’s project, and many of them worry about losing access that they cannot otherwise afford.”

“Back in Philadelphia, Cesar’s older sister, Tomasa DeLaRosa, said she had faith that city officials would find a way to finish the network and keep her Internet service going.

‘Our whole house is totally different now,’ said Ms. DeLaRosa, 19, who had never had Internet access at home until last December because she could not afford it.

After signing up for a job training program and completing its course work, Ms. DeLaRosa received a free laptop, training and a year’s worth of free wireless service from Esparanza, a community group.

Greg Goldman, chief executive of Wireless Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization that was set up as part of the city’s deal with EarthLink, said that about $20 million had already been spent on the network, and only about $4 million more would be needed to cover the rest of the city.

Mr. Goldman’s organization is responsible for providing bundles that include a free laptop, Internet access, training and technical support to organizations like Esparanza so they can use them as incentives for their low-income clients like Ms. DeLaRosa to complete job training and other programs.

‘For us and a lot of people in this neighborhood,’ Ms. DeLaRosa said, ‘the Internet is like a path out of here.'”

Pilot program initial planning (stages, players, events)

So among other things, there’s quite a bit to think about for a pilot program… And yes, we’re planning on a pilot program. Talking with John Helmholdt from the public school district was inspiring. And even if that connection ends up not panning out, there a many other groups that I’m sure would be receptive to the idea. With that in mind, I write this,

Some initial thoughts on serving a small group of individuals for pilot program,

1. Prep 2. Give 3. Support

Within these stages are potentially 8 or 9 groups that we would need to bring together for this program.
• Geeks (for computer gleaning, clean up, open source os installation etc. at the geek-a-thon)
• Audience/clients (who will receive the laptops, get support, orientation, education)
• Forgr staff (will organize, manage and execute the program pieces and parts, provide orientation to all)
• Educators or existing community education organizations (teachers, professors, instructors that will teach introductory level skills to audience in a group setting and/or one-on-one)
• Tech support staff (will be available for audience to trouble shoot any extreme cases)
• Audience administration (school board, program executive directors etc. that will need to determine goals and parameters, and then accept responsibility’s for supporting program within their institution)
• Facilities (venue for geek-a-thon event, temporary education and support workshop locations)
• Piggy-back organization (existing nonprofit organization that will host our initiative, allow donors to give their laptops and equipment with a tax deductible status)
• Potentially parents and teachers of audience/clients if it’s a classroom environment (these would be extended support system and will need to understand the program’s ins and outs as much as possible)

So, with that in mind, here’s a shot at planning for the first stage of the pilot program:

1. Prep

1a.) Establish a planning committee, meet and come up with plan of action for organizing three part program pieces and parts, who what when where why how. Discuss goals, determine how event might be sponsored, how to recruit volunteers etc. Set our success model for the program.

1b.) Secure a venue for geek-a-thon portion, secure a piggy-back organization, determine rough time-line, secure deductible donation status for donors/geeks, discuss process for client group, secure sponsor.

1c.) Prepare to meet with client group leader, write up targeted business plan and executive statement for client group and/or piggy-back organization.

1d.) Meet with client group leader or board, determine hopes, goals for their group, their anticipated trouble spots, stumbling blocks, determine best course of action to proceed, set rough time line for events.

1e.) Submit any agreement documents with group (if necessary), start building community of educators or participating education facilities for education and support base for client group, discuss plan of action for geek-a-thon event.

1f.) Create program around geek-a-thon. Explore ways spread the word about the geek-a-thon, explore call to action for geeks to glean computers, event details, computer tagging strategy. Collect list of participating educators or community education partners. Finalize time line for all events and launch.

1g.) Check in on sponsor, venue, status, dates, client agreement, piggyback organization, donor. Firm up time line and event schedule for geek-a-thon with all pieces and parts, collect email addresses for all educators, geeks, and volunteers. Draft literature for all groups, client instructions, support materials, feedback forms etc.

1h.) Arrange for entertainment, food, music, tables etc. for geek-a-thon. Design email invitations, posters, signs for geek-a-thon. Make sure everything is covered, on track with all groups. Find facilitator volunteers for geek-a-thon.

1i) Send out invitations to geek-a-thon, write press release for event and contact media for event coverage. Finalize all materials for literature for all audiences.

1j) Collect RSVPs from geeks, collect feedback on idea from geeks. Meet with audience administration (weekly?) and hold pre-orientation/round table with administration, (potentially teachers, parents) on upcoming event and program ins and outs.

1k.) Venue prep for geek-a-thon event day or two ahead. Set up, event dry run with committee, hold volunteer orientation, have FAQ sheet available for volunteers. Tie up loose ends before event. Send out press releases, check back in with press to make sure they are attending (if we want them).

1l.) Hold Geek-a-thon event. Hand out kits to geeks. Get volunteers in place. Answer questions, address immediate needs. Announcements. Register laptops and run through clean up, diagnostics, set up checklists. Determine what parts are missing, needs to bring all machines up to standards. During event solicit feedback, have temporary workshop volunteer sign up sheet/email list and sign up for continuing involvement in program. Enjoy ourselves and do something good together. Collect finished machines. Thank everyone for coming and explain next steps. Collect possible donations.

1m.) Send out thank yous and confirmation to geeks and volunteers from geek-a-thon event. Prep temporary workshop space, get wireless networks set up. Tools, parts, and/or the means to gain. Set up volunteer schedule, hotline for clients, tracking system for incoming machines maintenance. Confirm introductory level education schedule. Tie up any loose ends with groups.

2. Give

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Photo from flickr-user elemenous for use under creative common license
2a.) If necessary, hold orientation for potential teachers, parents, administrators. Explain their roles, and provide support for them as extended support team. Collect phone numbers, names addresses of their children/our clients.

2b.) Hold client orientation. Introduce program origins, cover who what when why wheres, address, explain all questions. Tell them how it will work. Have all parties sign ‘promise’ agreement and ‘care and keeping of your new computer’ sheet.

2c.) Bring clients their laptops, literature, FAQs, how tos, what ifs, explain hotline. Hold first education session, set up email accounts, provide educational outlets outside program too. Explain feedback plan. Fill sign up sheet for future classes, sessions. Collect email addresses from all clients. Collect donations?

2d.) Let them take them home, and make sure they stay connected to the program by providing feedback.

3. Support

536550986_d6704b735a.jpg

Photo from flickr-user mugley for use under creative common license

3a.) Collect feedback, hold classes, collect donations, fix broken machines, address problems. Change, adapt, support, grow, learn.

3b.) Host lessons-learned session for geek-a-thon, hardware status, determine if program is on track

3c.) Collect and synthesize incoming feedback. Solicit feedback from parents, teachers. Update program if necessary.

3d.) Hold lessons-learned for orientations, education sessions, workshops, volunteers, facility, hotline, etc.

3e.) Scout for permanent workshop location if necessary, build client database, build website, find more volunteers, find donors, send out regular newsletters. Build, grow, learn, adapt, assist, have energy.

3f.) Reach pilot program success, continue to support clients through their growth and ours.

Phew, so what do we think here, too optimistic, would something like this work? We really want to know, what’s missing?Why do we need your help? Because I’m sitting on my couch, at home, in my pajamas with my headphones in and it’s impossible to coordinate something like this a bubble.

If you’re interesting in jumping in, joining us, and joining the pilot planning and execution committee, email me, or call me at (616) 446-3622, (mobile phone number).

If you’re thinking about helping in other ways, we’d love you for that too. Call, email, drive over to my house, send me a letter. Make contact. We want you.

Other related notes:

Determine next steps after pilot

Meet with committee weekly on progress

Have plan for addressing negative feedback at all stages of the game

Have google group for planning committee to post happenings

Have audience discussion group online, get ichat accounts, meet regularly for required education

Provide laptop to teachers?

Hold Fund-raising events simultaneously

Reference links for community, general audience (for portal)

Posted in clients, links for community, planning, portal by forgr on March 18, 2008

Local colleges
Tax forms
Tax help
Local event calendar
Local business directory
Local government, courthouse, Secretary of State, Police stations
Neighborhood associations
Local public and private schools
Parks and recreation
State and National Parks
School closings
Local TV station websites, WOOD TV8, WZZM 13, local cable networks etc.
Volunteer opportunities
Tutoring and mentoring resources
Flickr photos for the region
YouTube videos of the region
Public library and literary resources
Craigslist links, Grand Rapids specific
Homeowner resources
Home improvement resources
Community aid organizations
Childcare resources
Book clubs, interest meetups
After-school program resources
Job boards
Local healthcare resources
Local maps
Attractions, museums, parks, landmarks
Festivals, and city events
Local radio, public radio, local stations

What else does every community need to know? What should be common knowledge?