ellohay! West Michigan

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.

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A Conversation with Wireless Philadelphia

Posted in benchmarks, conversations, discovery stages, meetings, organization, planning, projects, research, wifi by forgr on February 26, 2008

Conversation with Thomas Kim, Operations Manager Wireless Philadelphia
(I called Wireless Philadelphia’s office today as a concerned citizen in Grand Rapids, MI. a man named Thomas answered the phone, I later learned that it was Thomas Kim, Operations Manager of the program. Notes are below in short statements… I’ll summarize at the end)

Their project is divided into three parts, all cooperating together 1. Wireless Philadelphia, 2. City of Phily, and 3. Earthlink
Wireless Philadelphia is a non-profit runs independently, no tax dollars went into it at all
RPF sent out from Wireless Philadelphia
EarthLink was chosen
They offered to pay build out themselves, operate it and maintain it
Concessions were made, generate revenue from subscribers
Main objective, was to make sure that there was digital inclusion, help brdge that gap
Subsidized accounts were created with EarthLink, $9.95
They are currently in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens now that Earthlink is being purchased. Sucks. Read the snappy article on Philebritiy here.

Mayor was the incorporated, Interin COO
CIO put together an executive committee
City Government was part of that committee

(Thomas mentioned that Clearwire will most likely do Advertising, municipality)
Governance of organization: Board has four appointments, Mayor, 3 by council, 2 by board, CIO serves on board by default.

Marketing, website was part of operation, was from grants to Wireless Phildelphia Digital Inclusion program:
Group: Purchase bundles, $600 internet for one year, a laptop, classes, support resources
Individuals: sign up locations to earn a laptop, support, classes

They reached out to EARN, employment resources, network, welfare to work. Incentivized benchmarks, state funded.

They reached out to OIC programs, vocational institutions community based, life skill enhancement or building, city departments, ex-offenders, senior citizens based organizations, undeserved.

Brief time line: ’05 Business Plan, RFP. Summer of ’06 CEO was put in place, Fall of ’06 started finally, contracts

Not very well communicated in the beginning stages.

Is the program successful? When had full backing of vendor, okay
Biggest pain? service is the problem now

Wireless Philadelphia has largest Wifi coverage, 75%
Huston, 600 square miles
Portland, comparable

(WiMax will have same problems, Radio Frequency changes)

Any resources that your organization can offer to other cities, a kit, a how to? Nope.

About section on the website has more information, historic documents pdfs, RFP, network agreement, defines relationship

In short
Do it, and get as many community resources involved, write a complete business plan. He said we could call anytime.

Philly Is On!

Posted in benchmarks, links for community by forgr on February 24, 2008

Philadelphia, PA has it together. Check out their Wireless Philadelphia informational website and their “New users” website, Philly Is On!

“Wireless Philadelphia was created to transform Philadelphia’s neighborhoods by making high-speed Internet access more available and affordable through Digital Inclusion – the initiative that helps people who are not online gain access with hardware, software, tech support/information, and broadband Internet service, so they can begin to use this technology to improve their educational, employment, health, and life opportunities.

Wireless Philadelphia will help all citizens, businesses, schools, and community organizations embrace this technology while strengthening the City’s economy, enhancing the visitor experience, and streamlining City services.”

It can be done, and done well. What do you think Grand Rapids?

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