Tag Archives: seniors

Kentucky, Tennessee, other parts of USA need digital access help

logoBack in the 1990s, I got into a heated debate somewhere online with someone who said community technology centers and computer literacy programs would be gone by the turn of the century. I knew there would always be a need for such groups, at least in my lifetime. And, sadly, I was right.

I love my home state of Kentucky oh-so-much. I lived there until I was 22, and really enjoy visiting whenever I can. I plan on retiring there some day. I think it’s an amazing state. But I also know that Kentucky has quite a few people who are under-educated, even illiterate, that are living in poverty, that are struggling with nutritional needs, health care, dental care and more. And when it comes to Internet speed, Kentucky is stuck in the slow lane – this story is from 2014, but not much has changed 2 years later.

But in addition, Kentucky, and its neighbor, Tennessee, don’t have many computer literacy projects or digital equity programs outside of its grade schools. Seniors, people in their 40s and over struggling with unemployment, and many others in those two states lack computer literacy skills: they don’t know how to use word processing programs, they don’t understand the Internet, they don’t understand online safety, and they may not even understand what’s installed on their smart phones. The nearest NetSquared group for Kentucky or Tennessee? St. Louis. Chicago. Columbus. Atlanta. Hundreds of miles away for most people in those two states. SeniorNet doesn’t serve either state. There is nothing in Kentucky or Tennessee – and probably a lot of other US states – like there is in big US cities known for their tech-savviness, or even like there is in many large cities in Africa. Portland, Oregon has FreeGeek and an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, Austin, Texas has Austin FreeNet and also an NTEN Nonprofit Tech Club, and San Francisco has more programs helping various communities with digital empowerment than I care to try to list here. Heck, I even discovered the Crook County, Oregon Mobile Computer Lab in Paulina, Oregon on a motorcycle ride a few years ago.

Not that there aren’t organizations expressing the need for such in these two states – and others, probably. ElderServe in Louisville needs a volunteer to teach basic computer skills such as how to operate a computer, email, Google, Facebook, etc. to its senior participants. The Louisville, Kentucky public library hosts computer literacy classes at many of their sites. Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee has computer classes for clients. in Nashville.

Does the University of Kentucky do anything regarding building the digital literacy of high-poverty communities or under-served people? Western Kentucky University? Eastern Kentucky University? Murray State University? University of Tennessee? Middle Tennessee State University? University of Memphis? Vanderbilt? Not that I could find. I used the names of these universitys, or the largest cities in these two states, and phrases like digital literacy, computer training elderly, and computer literacy at-risk teens to search.

Computer literacy projects, digital equity programs, “access for all” groups, geeks4good initiatives – even in 2016, these kinds of initiatives are still needed, not just in developing countries, but right here in the USA, and not just in Kentucky and Tennessee. I have no doubt that such initiatives could easily recruit qualified, committed onsite and online volunteers in these areas, and attract funding. There are lots of people that would love to teach classes, market the classes, find places for the classes, and build web sites for programs providing these services. Photos of seniors, rural people, at-risk youth and others engaged in these programs, and their testimonials after their participation, would be oh-so-attractive to sponsors.

If you want to start such a program in Kentucky, Tennesee, or wherever you are, there are lots of resources to help you:

  • NetSquared
  • Start a Cyber Seniors program
  • See the San Francisco Bay Area’s Community Technology Network for a model program
  • Archived web pages from CTC Net and its members: go to archive.org and search for www.ctcnet.org and look at any of the web pages from mid 2005 and look up the CTCNet Center Start Up Manual and the CTC Toolkit, with resources regarding
    preparing a business plan, identifying potential partners, determining program focus, staffing, evaluation, budgeting and funding
  • United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) contributions to the UNESCO Multimedia Training Kit, a list of the content UNITeS provided UNESCO in 2005. The overall kit was meant to provide trainers in telecentres, community media organizations, civil society organizations and the development sector with a set of modular training materials on information communications technologies; the materials were intended for use by trainers in face-to-face workshops rather than for self-instruction by learners. UNITeS contributions were regarding volunteer engagement in these community tech initiatives.

And I hope if you do start such an initiative, you will share information about such in the comments below!

Update: for clarification, I’m talking about digital literacy and access for all citizens – I’m not talking about a company hiring people to code or expanding its company operations in either state.

April 17, 2017 update: on a related note: “Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies.”

Answering tough volunteer involvement questions

Here are two questions regarding volunteer engagement I am seeing a lot through various channels… but not seeing many answers to:

Where can young children – children under 13, even as young as 6 – volunteer? What kinds of activities can they do and exactly where can they do these?

and

Where can people with diminishing mental abilities, or with mental disabilities, volunteer? What kinds of activities can they do and exactly where can they do these?

The first set of questions come from parents, as well as children under 13, on various online discussion groups, like YahooAnswers.

The second set of questions come primarily from volunteer managers – from those in charge of recruiting and involving volunteers at an organization – and are often the result of a long-time, beloved volunteer becoming less and less capable of helping, and requiring so much supervision and assistance that the organization feels the benefits of involving the volunteer are far below the costs. Or, that volunteer becoming verbally abusive, or saying inappropriate things to other volunteers, as a result of their diminished mental capabilities. But I’ve also seen the question asked by siblings, parents and other caretakers of people with mental disabilities.

I’m very disappointed not to see organizations that are supposed to have the promotion of volunteerism as the central focus of their mandate jumping in to answer these questions. Where are you, Points of Light Foundation? Hands On Network? Why aren’t you out there on various online fora, such as YahooAnswers, addressing these tough questions about volunteering?

Anyway…

I’m not at equating children and people with diminished mental capacities. These are two VERY different groups. But they do have one thing in common: they require much more planning, support and staff time to involve than adult volunteers. Hence why I’m discussing these two groups at once here in this blog.

The reality is that it’s more efficient, economical and immediately beneficial for most nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and charities to involve adult individual volunteers who can successfully complete a project, from start to finish, with minimum supervision. Also, most organizations do not have the money, staff, time and other resources to create volunteering opportunities focused primarily on fulfilling the needs of various types of volunteers, rather than creating volunteering activities that are focused primarily on fulfilling the needs of an organization (I’ve said this about microvolunteering as well!). For most organizations, volunteer engagement is primarily about fulfilling the organization’s mission, not fulfilling the wishes of volunteers.

If you think nonprofits, NGOs, charities and others should involve everyone who wants to volunteer, no matter the volunteers’ ages or abilities, then consider this: no matter what your job is, no matter what sector you work in (for-profit, government, nonprofit, whatever), could YOU come up with a safe, fun, meaningful hour-long activity for a 10 year old child to do in your office twice a week, or a two-hour weekly activity for a dozen 10 year olds to do in your office, and do you have time to supervise that child or those children during that activity? What about creating similar activities for someone who has severe short-term memory loss? If you could not do it in your own job at such-and-such corporation, why do you expect nonprofit organizations to do so?

Just as creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities for adults is difficult, creating volunteering opportunities for children, or for people with diminished or diminishing mental abilities, is also difficult. Should a nonprofit, NGO or charity be spending time and resources to involve these groups? In some circumstances, yes.

First, think carefully about what is in it for you, the organization or program, to create opportunities for either of these groups. What benefit are you looking for?:

  • measurable results regarding participant or community awareness of a particular issue, program or your organization. Could the volunteering activity help children understand a particular issue? Could the activity help parents or family issues understand the issue more fully?
  • cultivation of donors who would be interested in funding this part of your organization’s program. The staff time to create opportunities and support these volunteers, the materials needed by volunteers, etc. all need funding. Are there foundations, corporate philanthropy programs, government agencies or individual donors who would be attracted to funding the resources required?
  • activities that fulfill your organization’s mission. The volunteering experience results in activities that reach part of your organization’s mission. For instance, if you work with seniors, particularly those with diminished mental faculties, then involving these seniors as volunteers would be a part of your mission. If your organization is focused on children under 13, then involving those children as volunteers would be a part of your mission.

I wrote a page on creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities, and it includes a long list of activity suggestions. Some of those could be adapted as volunteering activities for children, or for people with very limited mental capacities – but not all of them. And to be honest, I’m stumped on creating voluntering activities for either of these groups.

Not every organization is going to be able to address any of those three bullet points – and, therefore, is not going to be in a position to create volunteering opportunities for either of these special needs groups. What I advise those organizations to do:

  • For those that are getting called by parents who want their children to volunteer, have a list of other organizations in your area to refer their child to. For instance, for girls, I recommend the Girl Scouts of the USA (or, in other countries, Girl Guides). I also have a web page of recommendations for family volunteering – specifically families that include children under 16 – note that many activities are home-based.
  • For those that ask about volunteers with diminished mental capacities – for instance, an organization that finds a long-term volunteer can no longer undertake any of the volunteering opportunities at the organization, could a placement be found elsewhere?  Is there a community theater that could involve him or her to hand out programs before a performance? Could the volunteer help serve refreshments at an event – just putting cups filled with a liquid, not doing any of the fillings of the cups him or herself? And does the family of this person understand that a family member will have to be with the volunteer at all times? Or is there an organization in your community that helps people with diminishing mental capacities that you could introduce the volunteer to, that could give that person meaningful activities to engage in – like going to community events in a group? Does this volunteer attend events by a community of faith (a church, temple, mosque, etc.), and could that community be called on to help in this situation?

What other advice do you have for parents seeking volunteering activities for young children, or nonprofit organizations that are going to have to let a volunteer go because of diminished mental capabilities? Leave your answers in the comments. What I’m particularly interested in: how did you go about letting a long-time volunteer go that you had to let go because of his or her diminished mental capabilties, and what did you learn from that expereince that you would like to share with others?

Also see:

Creating one-time, short-term group volunteering activities

Recommendations for family volunteering – specifically families that include children under 16

 

Is your web site for everyone, or just the elite?

For three days the last week of March, I was in a place that had very slow Internet access: a senior citizens home. No, I’m not a senior citizen yet, but my grandmother is, and I was staying with her while visiting family back in Kentucky.

I was profoundly disappointed to find so many, many of your web sites that were not accessible with a slow Internet connection.

People don’t visit web sites for flashy graphics or award-winning designs. They visit web sites – particularly those for nonprofits, NGOs, schools, state offices and other mission-based organizations — to:

  • get directions to your organization
  • find out where to park once they are there
  • see what hours you are open
  • read more about your upcoming programs, events or activities
  • find out how your organization involves volunteers and if volunteering is something that might interest them
  • see how your organization spends donations
  • see how your organization might help them, a family member, a neighbor, a friend, etc.
  • see if you have any jobs available
  • read about your accomplishments
  • and to retrieve various other information.

Do you want everyone to be able to access this information, or just those with the best Internet access?

Not everyone has broadband. Not everyone has a fast Internet connection. If your web site isn’t as accessible as it can possibly be, you are leaving out potential donors, clients, volunteers and others. And maybe that’s okay with you – maybe you are focused only on the elites of the Internet.

But if you do want to be a resource for everyone, then it’s high time you find out just how quickly your web site loads on a slow Internet connection. Ask your volunteers for help in finding people to test your site. To not do so is to say to many, many people, “We don’t want you as a donor, a client or a volunteer.” Do you really want to do that?

Baby Boomer Volunteers – don’t believe all of the hype

Volunteer researchers and consultants have been talking about how new retirees from the “Baby Boomer” generation (born between 1946 and 1964) will affect volunteer support and involvement since at least the 1990s. I did a presentation back in 1998 or so about such, to an incredulous audience; I did an updated version of the same presentation just this year, more than 10 years later, and the audience was completely receptive, probably because they have already worked with so many volunteers from that generation.

The Baby Boomer generation volunteers differently than the greatest generation – that’s something I think most everyone agrees on. However, some of the expectations and predictions about what more Baby Boomer volunteers really mean for volunteer managers are… well, they are “out there.” Andy Fryer does a great job at his December OzVPM blog of talking about the realities of involving Baby Boomer volunteers — and countering the hype. It’s Australia-focused, but what he says really applies to most of the Western world, including the USA.

And speaking of Australian colleagues, be sure to subscribe to Martin Cowling’s new blog!