ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with Catherine Ettinger

Usually when I get to tell someone new about this project, initially there is skepticism. Then I explain the structure and the elements built in for sustainability, there is optimism.

My conversation with Catherine, president of Foxbright (here in Grand Rapids) was a little different. She wasn’t pessimistic per se, but she wasn’t exactly beaming. I contacted her after listening to her podcasts “Inside Grand Rapids”, and read her About page that expressed great interest in learning about new and existing projects making a difference in the city.

Her studio develops websites for schools, nonprofits, social organizations and regular profit businesses too. Hospice, Goodwill, Phoenix Society among other are some of her company’s clients.

So, we met and talked downtown on Friday during lunch.

Some condensed, paraphrased, versions of her statements, questions, comments:
• Internet access is essential to this programs’ success, the wiMax program will be important
• Relying on a third party to provide internet access (which is integral to the program) is not a great thing
• Education is going to be difficult, people don’t like learning past a certain age, it’s going to be a challenge to get people to be receptive
• You can solve data loss issues with thumb drives, people use those all the time
• You won’t be able to give 24 hour support, staffing that is going to be nearly impossible
• Laptops, not desktop computers. Portable, small, strong tech devices
• Getting technology will be no problem at all
• The pilot program sounds good, kids in the same neighborhood is an optimal situation
• Eventually you’re going to need storefronts or workshops all over the city, coverage similar to the public library and their branches
• People will need to be able to walk to your locations as transportation is a major issue
• You could probably use those rooms at the public for some of the classes
• Security is going to be a big issue for people, build in a strong base in the program, because in this day and age…
In short, it was great to talk with her, she had some fantastic feedback, and comments about logistics, practices.

It was also good to hear about her perspective as a parent, she has two young boys at home who she personally wants to educate about the internet and technology herself. It sounded like she wouldn’t need the program for her kids.

She acknowledged that while she and her children have the resources and skills to harness the power of those tools, that not everyone in our community has the same advantages.

If I understood her correctly, over-all she thinks this program is a good idea and it could really work.

She expressed that she’d like to stay in the conversation as well.

Catherine, you bring a unique perspective to the table, you’re a mom, a small business owner, and a strong, intelligent voice in the community.

Thank you for the conversation, and we hope to hear from you soon (and yes, once we get this pilot program off the ground, I’d like very much to be a guest on your podcast, thank you for the invitation).

For everyone reading here, please poke holes, and keep those comments coming. Thanks and cheers.

A Conversation with John Helmholdt

Posted in clients, conversations, education, meetings, organization, partners, pilot, players, programs by forgr on March 16, 2008

About a week and a half ago, I had a phone conversation with John Helmholdt, Communications Director for Grand Rapids Public Schools. I left a voicemail a day earlier for him, and he called back less than 24 hours later.

Lee Weber from Dyer-Ives suggested I call him a week prior. She said he might be interested in this project.

So, he called me, wanting to know more, and was interested in how something like this might impact students, teachers, parents, the board etc. We talked about the potential structure, the benefits, the pilot program. I mentioned several times that we were just starting out, still int he discovery stage of this project.

And still.. the conversation after that went something like this, not quotes, just the jest (except for the part in quotes, that’s real):

John: So this would cost money right? And the machines would be leased or machines on loan?

Me: “Nope, once we get going, the laptops would be free and belong to the students’

John: Ah, interesting. What’s the catch? What would you want from us?

Me: ‘You would be our test audience, so you’d need to bear with us, and we would like feedback, that’s it’

John: Huh

Me: ‘Seriously, that’s it’

John: “Well, it’s a no brainer.” Marie-Claire, we should find a classroom, the one with the greatest need, and test it out’

Me: ‘Really?’

John: Yeah, let me talk to the right people and get back to you.

Me: ‘Okay then, great’

John: You’ll have to be patient with us, there’s a lot of people to get through before we’d be able to get back to you with a yes or a no.

Me: That’s good, because we have a lot more work to do on our end, you’ll need to be patient with us as well.

John: Okay, this is great, thank you so much for calling me.

So, what does that conversation mean? We may have a local audience, one that potentially lives in the same neighborhood together. They are potentially a complicated group, with special needs, and English may not be their first language. They are under served in the community in more ways than one.

What else does it mean? The pilot program organization is a little higher on our list of to-dos.

What we need to make this work

Posted in discovery stages, planning by forgr on March 13, 2008


Photo from flickr-user katielips, for use under creative commons license
In no particular order:

• We need to offer free laptops to our clients

• We need to offer support for our clients

• We need to offer many types of education

• We need to offer one-on-one mentoring

• We need to make sure our clients understand the power of their new tool, can help themselves, become independent of the program, and make a contribution back to the community in some way

• We need to provide several methods for our clients to contact us for support

• We need to have at least one physical presence in the city that is easily accessible

• We need to collaborate with our community and our internal team frequently

• We need to have dedicated staff for day-to-day tasks

• We need to have multi-lingual staff members

• We need to have active technology gleaners

• We need to be organized in everything we do

• We need to become an anchor in our community

• We need to be smart and fresh, honest and level

• We need an active and dedicated board of advisors

• We need people with patience, passion and empathy to help us bring this workshop into fruition

• We need to have volunteers to help organize the equipment, properly orient new clients, maintain relationships with community, offer technical support, teach classes, be mentors, evangelize, write for the blog, collect feedback, clean the workshop, be in charge of client data, write articles for monthly eNewsletters, explain the workshop and earn-a-laptop program to new-comers.

• We need to stay local and stimulate people in our community to stay active

• We need to have client events

• We need to have a solid board of directors

• We need to have a fearless leader

• We need to make sure our tools are accessible to individuals with special needs

• We need to have community partners

• We need to always stay positive and engaged

• We need to know our mission and work towards it in everything we do

• We need to solicit feedback from our community on a regular basis

• We need to be as open, honest and as transparent as possible

• We need to take care of our team members

• We need to learn from our clients

• We need to reach out to our neighbors, and engage them in the project

Printed information, established workshop vs. pilot program

Established workshop printed information for volunteers, clients and inter-organization use:

Introductory information for clients:
• basic introductory information, testimonials
• application

Introductory and support information for staff and lead-volunteers:
• About the program
• About the workshop
• Opportunities for involvement (volunteer task options)
• Clean and installation checklist (software)
• Condition status/checklist (hardware)
• Feedback forms
• Thank you postcards
• Time-sheets, check in, check out
• Task lists (daily and event workshop duties)

In a folder to new clients:
• FAQ sheet
• Free wifi location map
• Available volunteer tasks list
• Volunteer skills check off, to be returned to workshop
• Recommend this project to a friend card
• Check off sheet (for clients to track their progress in the program)
• Feedback sheet
• Login and password keeper list
• Spiral bound notebook, for notes and reference
• Class list, calendar, registration sheet
• Community event announcement calendar

Other resource’s printed materials for clients:
• Bus schedule
• City event calendar
• City map
• Form to apply for the discounted municipal wiMax access (from Community Media Center)

Pilot program printed information for volunteers, clients and inter-organization use:

Introductory information for clients:
• basic introductory information, testimonials
• application

Introductory and support information for staff and lead-volunteers:
• About the program
• Opportunities for involvement (volunteer task options)
• Clean and installation checklist (software)
• Condition status/checklist (hardware)
• Feedback forms

In a folder to new clients:
• FAQ sheet
• Free wifi location map
• Feedback sheet
• Login and password keeper list

What else would be needed here? This is just the printed information, what could be digital?

A Conversation with Lynell Shooks

Posted in conversations, donations, hardware resources, meetings, partners, planning, players by forgr on March 9, 2008

So, last week I talked with Lynell Shooks from Comprenew Environmental in Grand Rapids, MI. Comprenew is the leading recycling and upcycling entity in the region. They’re mission is much different than ours, but still involves computers and assistance to the community.

“Last year, Comprenew Environmental kept approximately 1.5 million pounds of electronics out of landfills.”

“The mission of Comprenew Environmental is to inspire the local community to live and work in a sustainable manner. This mission is accomplished through the mentoring of community partners and inner-city youth who, along with committed staff and volunteers, provide corporations and the community with electronics recycling services that represent the best possible practice.”

I left a message but didn’t get a call back for about two weeks, I called back this week to see if I could catch her at a different time of day. Got her on the phone…

I took cruddy notes while talking with her:

General Information:
Offer discounted electronics at the store
Laptops for $380-400
Offer support
Two week warranty, No long term warranty provided
Geared towards regular users, but work with lower income
Build computers
Non-profits get discounts
(Gave Degagé Ministries monitors for $10 each)
(Sold to Schools for labs all over the county)
Machine comes with software and an OS, keep the OS with the machine
They make recommendations to their clients for upgrading their OS

Comprenew Academy:
Teaching sustainability practices
Offers agencies and non-profit sustainability education as well
Hope Network, retaining, and financial, taking apart computers, factory work
AARP, job retraining factory
Internships and volunteers at the center constantly

Computers 101?
Community, not really involved yet

Repair services, cheaper than Best Buy
Support offered at the facility

I asked if Comprenew would be interested in contributing to the conversation, Lynell was interested in contributing AND partnering in some way. She mentioned that we could call her anytime and that this sort of initiative is much needed in the community. I gave her my email, phone number, and the blog url too.

Check out the Comprenew website here.

629 Ionia Avenue SW
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503