ellohay! West Michigan

A Conversation with the Macatawa Media Center

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, players, research, sustainability by forgr on December 13, 2008

I hadn’t forgotten about my conversation with Barb Pyle from the Macatawa Media Center, honestly. I met with her back in early May in their office on E 19th Street in Holland. We discussed their current computer refurbishing program, their television and production programs, and outreach programs.

Barb was very interested in what we are starting here in the Grand Rapids area, and wanted to know how we planned on cultivating and maintaining a genuinely sustainable “business”.

If by sustainable, she’s asking if we might have the capacity to preserve a complex set of programs (earn-a-laptop, digital literacy, technical support) indefinitely, then we’re on the right path.

If being sustainable means promoting stable and healthy communities, restoring environmental quality, and increasing long-term profitability, then yes we’re pointed in the right direction.

We have a lot of planning to do, but if we at least if know what we want and what’s important to us, that brings us closer to determining how we plan on getting it, and knowing once we have it.

Thank you Barb.

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A Conversation with Dan Balfour

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Dan Balfour, professor in the School of Public and Nonprofit Administration and a faculty fellow of the Honors College at Grand Valley State University.

We discussed the organization, the program offering and our plan to run a pilot program in a GR public school classroom. We also talked about grant seeking classes offered at the SPNA at GVSU and how volunteer work is required in the curriculum at the SNPA (think “grant-writing”, or “research-assistance” for this project… yeah).

Biggest moment of the conversation:

Marie-Claire: “So, if there was one thing that would be a grave mistake if I didn’t do during this process, if there was one piece of advice you might give to me, what would that be?”

Dan: “Don’t stop”

Thank you so for your time, advice, and resources Dan. It was great meeting you, and I hope to talk to you again soon.

A Conversation with Andy Wolber

Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Andy Wolber from NPower Michigan. Andy is the Executive Director of NPower Michigan. Their mission:

We provide technology services to nonprofits in Michigan, ensuring that all organizations have access to the best technology resources and know-how and can apply these tools to help create healthy, vibrant, thriving communities

We talked for about 45 minutes. High level notes:

• Team up with Macatawa Media Center in Holland, they have a earn-a-laptop program (CARE) and would definitely be a good source of information

• Check out One Economy (I did, very interesting indeed)

• Make the Community Media Center in Grand Rapids a fiduciary parent

• Take a cue from the United Way, they work with many non-profit organizations, they are a good model

• Call NuSoft Solutions, they should be interested in teaming up in some way

• Engage college students with the project

• Work with job skill training centers

He was a great source of knowledge, and has been a very generous individual. He’s also emailed be several reports, introduced me to Barb Pyle at Macatawa Media Center, and has been kind enough to allow me to write about him here in our blog.

Thank you for your contacts, advice and contributions Andy. I hope to talk to you again soon.

A few next steps, growth

Photo from flickr-user akaporn, for use under creative commons license

Photo from flickr-user akaporn, for use under creative commons license

1.) Finalize project name

2.) Get feedback on mission statement, problem statements, finalize mission statement

3.) Post draft of Executive Statement, get feedback

4.) Write out plans for involvement with community partners

5.) Finalize and Print out finished Executive Statement, supporting diagrams and materials

6.) Start writing grants

7.) Schedule time to meet with Comprenew to discuss pilot program

8.) Schedule time to meet with WMCAT to discuss pilot program

9.) Schedule time to meet with Community Media Center to discuss pilot program

10.) Schedule time to meet with Grand Rapids Public School representatives to discuss pilot program

11.) Schedule time to meet with other important community partners

12.) Write memorandums of understanding for potential partnerships

13.) Breathe.

14.) Determine next steps again

A Conversation with Ashima Saigal

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with Ashima Saigal, Director of Technology at Dorothy A. Johnson Center of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership at Grand Valley State University.

I explained the project, the few programs that we have planned, the thinking behind it all. She had some really good suggestions and encouraging feedback as well.

• We should definitely get the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) Organization in on it, get them to set up a buy one get one program for the citizens of the city of Grand Rapids.

• She also expressed that we need to build in a give/get aspect to the donation process. Donors give something and they get something in return.

• She expressed that getting clients involved in their community would be wildly important. For example, 10 hours of community service with Mixed Greens gets you one laptop computer. This will help our clients realize the value of the tools we’re providing to the community.

• Open Office may not be compatible with MicroSoft word file formats, the file format that most educator’s machines, school computers or workplaces use. That may cause some annoying problems for our clients.

Also,
While I was laying out all of the elements of the program, (the lack of connectivity between the hardware and education and support and wireless connectivity) I mentioned that there were only a few resources for getting ones computer repaired, i.e. the “smart kid next door” or the “tech-saavy nephew / co-worker / acquaintance or Best Buy’s Geek Squad.

She misheard me, perhaps thinking that I had mentioned that there was an organization of smart kids that fixed people’s computers for them, smart kids next door. I clarified, adding that something like that would be really cool. She said something to the tune of, ‘that would be so cool if that existed for real’. A troop of friendly nerds that could roam the streets providing tech support for a simple trade of homebaked cookies or iced tea.

So I’ve been chewing on that, writing a new draft of the mission statement without my head up my rear, drafting program outlines, and memorandums of understanding.

I’ve got some more to write about this meeting, but nights seem to be getting shorter, so I need to stop if I’m ever going to get anything else out of my head.

Thank you for meeting with me Ashima, hope to talk with you again soon.

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.