ellohay! West Michigan

Bringing it all together

Posted in earn-a-laptop, organization, planning, research, software, strategy, writing by forgr on January 4, 2009

In my professional life I keep everything organized in one place. One to do list, with subheadings, prioritized items, due dates, the works. At home I’m much less organized.

For this project, I’m organized in my head, but not on paper. I’m all over the place.

Let’s review the online tools list that I use:

For writing, I use: Twitter, WordPress.
For photos, I use: Flickr
For bookmarks, I use: Twitter, and the ‘links’ column in WordPress
For fundraising, I use: Fundable (success!), ChipIn (fail)
For Groups, I use: Google Groups (fail), LinkedIn (mixed success)
For video, I intend on using: YouTube

Now, a look at other on and offline tools for getting things done:

For newsletters, I intend of using: Constant Contact
For domain registration, I used: GoDaddy
For website hosting, I used: DreamHost
For email, I use: Gmail
For writing, I use: Microsoft Word
For Internet browsing, I use: Mozilla Firefox
For wire-framing and strategic documents, I use: OmniGraffle
For top of the head notes, with no paper on hand, I use: a little digital voice recorder

For getting ideas down on paper, literally:

Color-coded sticky notes
Black journal with graph paper pages
Graph Paper note pad
Giant sticky notes
Whatever happens to be lying around if/when I get an idea (receipts, empty spots on the back of brochures)

It’s so scattered right now. So, what I’m trying to do is figure out what works, and how I can quickly communicate things to the right people and in the right place. Blogging here works pretty well, but it doesn’t loan itself to versioning very well, and it’s difficult to write partial thoughts too.

BaseCamp or Google Docs, Google Spreadsheets may be the best option to keep all these things together.

picture-3 picture-4

I guess it’s time to just choose and get started. Aggregate, transcribe notes. Bringing it all together is going to be difficult, and take time, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that can understand my own notes.

On an unrelated note, we’ve got ourselves a P.O. Box, and a first draft of a budget.

Tech and what makes us tick

Posted in breakthrough, discovery stages, logic by forgr on August 3, 2008

Technology can be intimidating.

Trying to understanding technology by ourselves can be intimidating.

Most individuals avoid people, places, and things that are scary.

Avoiding something is a way to protect oneself from harm.

If we fear technology, we will avoid technology for as long as we can.

Avoiding technology is very difficult, it’s everywhere because it is effective.

Personal computers are very helpful tools.

Many tasks in the workplace, and in our personal lives are computer-based tasks.

If we understand what makes a piece of advanced technology a helpful tool, we are more likely to make room for it in our lives.

Relying on someone else to provide education and support is very common.

Many people who have home computers now, rely on a kind neighbor, relative, or friend to help them trouble shoot and fix their computers.

Most companies have tech support resources at their disposal, and rely on them to troubleshoot or fix computers, but their company pays for the service.

New technology is very complicated to understand.

The fast pace of innovation is difficult to keep up with.

If a person misses out on some new technology paradigm, it is often difficult to catch up later.

Not knowing something that everybody else seems to know is often embarrassing and overwhelming.

It is difficult to avoid technology as it becomes more and more prevalent in our everyday lives.

Many of us use a computer at work.

Many of us use a computer everyday.

New computers are expensive.

Used computers are affordable, but often unreliable.

Affording any computer is difficult, and there are usually other necessities that take precedence.

Computers make our lives easier overall.

Everyone deserves to be on a level playing field.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to have access to common tools.

Many of us, because of our financial status, do not have equal and meaningful exposure to technology.

Those of us that can afford new technology, have an upper hand.

Understanding how to use computers can make us more efficient in our daily tasks.

Abundant information is available online to learn new skills, and understand the world around us.

If we can be more efficient and more intelligent, we can potentially get better, more high paying jobs, and our quality of life will improve.

If we know how to use technological tools, we have a greater opportunity to get higher grades in school, which leads to great opportunities for college and education.

Having access to the internet and the tools to digest the information available online is beneficial to us.

Having access to the internet allows us to research, purchase items, sell items, publish information, digest information and communicate efficiently.

Having access to the internet allows us to communicate with one another in high volumes, in many different ways, over long distances, and at a low cost.

If we are exposed to each others cultures through sharing information on the internet, we can understand each other better.

If we are able to express ourselves through digital means in high volumes, in many different ways, over long distances, and at a low cost, those who did not have a voice previously can now be heard.


Posted in education, programs, Uncategorized by forgr on May 12, 2008

Out of curiosity, I recently attended a Grand Rapids School Board Meeting. I came in a little late, so I sat in the back.

I listened to each item on the agenda, watched while the group took a time to acknowledge Cinco de Mayo, and enjoyed hearing from several community members express their views on various items of concern.

I noticed a specific focus on tools and preparation for MEAP, SATs and ACTs from more than a few board members. Getting good scores on state and national tests are obviously a concern for this group, and in many cases, they are a major concern. Good score on MEAP determine a lot of things for a school and a school district e.g. total school scores, additional funding, overall school bill of health.

Students are allowed to use calculators on all three of these tests (MEAP, SATs and ACTs), they are encouraged to use them in fact. Scores are consistently higher when students use calculators. But in many cases, students can’t afford to buy calculators to use on these tests.

Scientific calculators currently run anywhere between $50-$100 depending on the features, but most households in Grand Rapids, MI can’t afford an extra cost like that. Many households are struggling to pay bills and get their children fed, clothed and off to school each morning.

There was one school board member that made the plea to individuals watching that evening to consider purchasing a calculator for $50 and donating it to the school district. She mentioned that she was potentially going to start a calculator drive herself.

I don’t have statistics to determine how many students are without calculators, but the fact that it was brought up during a school board meeting, means it’s a bit of a problem. Our students are under-served and cannot compete without the correct tools.

So, hey, calculators are helpful technological devices, who’s to say that earning-a-calculator isn’t a pretty good program to include in our future organization?

2 hours of community service = a new scientific calculator

What do we think? Cool, weird, good?

Helping people help people, efficiently

Posted in clients by forgr on March 8, 2008

I personally volunteer for a number of nonprofit community organizations. I can’t help it, I need to work with my hands, and I need to feel like my day was spent making the world a little better. One of my most rewarding volunteer opportunities is working with an internationally know disaster aid organization (I’m not giving out their name, it’s not about them it’s about their clients).

I’m on a disaster action team, and I help respond to local residential disasters (fires mainly) one week out of each month. It’s challenging, it’s a rush, and I know that I’m helping people get back some sort of normalcy after a disaster. As an organization we’re there to provide to those in need in their darkest hours.

But, like most aid organizations, we can’t do much without filling out the paperwork. Our main client form is called a “125” (number changed to protect the organization). Every family we serve has to fill out this form with a volunteer from the organization.

The first time I heard about the online version of the 125 form was during my third paperwork update class at the organization. There were seven of us huddling around the table, all with piles of xeroxed memos, chewed pens, and exhausted eyes. We’d been to three of these update meetings in less than five months, there was another change on the form, and another confusing step to remember.

The 125 is a long paper form with rubber stamps all over it, and marked out boxes, used by the organization to register clients. It’s a terribly awkward experience for both parties. We have to ask them about their name, former address and talk through the whole event with them while we write down everything they say. It takes an average of 45 minutes per client to fill out.

Imagine that you get home from work, and your house is on fire, it’s been on fire for an hour or so, and it’s completely destroyed. There are firemen, police, fire trucks, lights, hoses, smoke, ash. Your neighbors are out on their lawns staring at the flames and the smoke. The vinyl siding has melted off, all the windows are broken. The fire chief comes over to you and tells you that it’s gone, and you can’t go in to get anything, it’s not safe.

A truck appears, two volunteers in red vests hop out and introduce themselves. They offer you a place to sit in the back of their vehicle. They give you a blanket and a bottle of water, and loan you their phone so you can call your wife or husband or daycare center. You’re in shock right now. You only know how to do basic things, answer yes, no, you have no idea of the gravity of what’s going on or what will happen next. You don’t have insurance, the blood drains from your face, you sink.

They can help get you back on track. We can help.

Back to that paperwork, the 125 form. Since I’ve been on the disaster action team, I’ve filled out at least 20 of these Frankenstein forms. It’s a bad form, and an old form, and it takes a long time to fill out.

So. What does this have to do with digital inclusion you ask? Everything.

Last month I was sitting at home, watching the local news, folding laundry, and I see a breaking news story of a large apartment fire in town. Wood TV8 news reported that there were 100 families displaced from the apartment fire. It’s big, it’s bigger than any dispatch I’ve ever experienced, and a bigger event than Kent County has seen in a long time. I call my team leader, he’s watching the same thing on tv, trying to get a hold of the Fire Chief.

I put on my work clothes, clothes I know will stink of smoke when I get home. I put on my junk coat, warm hat, gloves, boots, and my reflective vest. I kiss my husband and tell him that I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I have my phone, I’ll try to call later.

5:30pm hear about the fire
5:31 call team leader
5:40 leave home
5:55 get to Chapter, I’m the first one there… there are no other tire tracks on the fresh snow that I can see…
6:10…I reread my shelter operations manual, count my client assistant cards, make sure I have at least two pens, flashlight, organization business cards, reference materials…
6:20 finally two cars drive in, we head inside
6:30 gather paperwork, everyone’s on phones, heat up water for cocoa
6:45 wait for instructions, wait for client headcount to start filling ERV with supplies
7:00 get numbers, find out what’s necessary to bring with us to the site, call two McDonalds to have them start making coffee, local ERV leaves to go to site
7:30 fill ERV with more supplies
8:10 finish filling national ERV
8:30 leave chapter to head to pick up coffee
9:30 finally get two cambros filled with hot coffee and head to site
10:00 get to the site, find out we’re not supposed to be there, we’re supposed to be at the shelter

10:20 get to shelter, park in back, check in with shelter supervisor
10:30 start unloading ERV, watch the other team finally set up paperwork area, start 125 processing
11:00 finish unpacking ERV, move inside to warm up, get water
11:15 get orders for next task… no orders… make stuff up
11:30 ask for direct orders… no orders… ask why trailer full of cots, blankets and pillow hasn’t been unloaded yet
11:45 get key to trailer, start unloading trailer with volunteers and clients, setting up cots, men and woman’s rooms
1:00 am finish setting up cots, help get clients into beds, take shift filling out 125’s for remaining clients
2:45 finish fourth and final 125, gave out $1,800 to clients on their own credit cards, get final clients to bed
3:00 get in car to go home

So what, right? It was a crappy night and we helped people, gave them some money. We helped people in need within 24 hours of the disaster.

It’s not good enough, our clients lost everything. Burned, gone. The roof over their heads, their clothes, pictures, books, medicine, coats, shoes, music, photos, pictures, furniture, dishes, food, gone. Everything they used to be able to come home to, is gone.

We should have been there within the hour, we should have been able to get them processed, fed, comforted, financially aided, and into safe, warm hotels within that time. At least.

So how would we have done that? Technology, communication, training. If we had laptops, wireless internet, and used the online version of the 125, we could have achieved that in half the time that it did on that night. That’s not exaggeration. The online version of that form takes HALF the time to complete.

If nonprofit organizations had the ability to get free or low cost computers for their staff, education, and support, they have the right tools to make a difference, faster.

Why wait another day to make this difference, right? We need to do it now. Why should we make people sit for hours and hours after losing everything before we put a safe roof over their heads?

What if it was you who lost everything, what would you expect? You’d expect better, right? You’d want your emergency response team to have those tools to help you and your community, right?

Digital Inclusion Workshop structure, draft

Posted in discovery stages, organization, planning by forgr on February 19, 2008

Almost two weeks ago, I sketched out four circles on a piece of paper in front of Victor to explain the necessary components to this crazy workshop project.Once I drew it, he got it. I guess I draw better than I speak… good thing I work in the field that I do, huh?

I had a chance to make the diagram last night in a little more formalized way and thought I’d share it with you all.

For more context, and for those of you just tuning in, this is a diagram to explain the four major components that are integral to this project/workshop.

1. Hardware

2. Tools

3. Support

4. Education

I don’t have everything in here, but it’s a start… Most of the items in the Tools section are already available, it’s the three others than need more development, discussion.

Digital Inclusion Workshop structure

So, what am I missing? And what doesn’t make sense? And more importantly.. what do you think?