Michael Liimatta is now Our Full-time CEO
Michael Liimatta, cofounder of Connecting for Good, began serving full-time as CEO on May 1. Since 2011, he has served in a volunteer capacity as board president. He was, until recently, Chief Academic Officer for City Vision University, an accredited online institution of higher learning he started in 1998. Michael has over thirty years of experience in nonprofit management and academic leadership. In this new role, he will be devoting his efforts toward transforming lives through accessible technology for low income families, recent immigrants, seniors and the disabled. Learn more about Michael Liimatta.
Conectando para Bien
During our March board retreat, we made a decision to more fully pursue a strategy to bring our services to the Hispanic community. According to the Pew Research Center, 73% of Hispanics who do not own a computer are foreign born. Along with the language barrier, many recent immigrants also fall into the lower income demographic. We know we can make a significant impact on these families by providing them with inexpensive refurbished PCs, affordable connectivity and basic computer and Internet classes in Spanish. Our starting point is to work with a steering committee of Kansas City area Latino leaders to develop a plan to move forward with this effort. We are also actively seeking partner organizations and bi-lingual volunteers to join with us.
Wi-Fi Project with Kansas City Missouri Housing Authority
Pemberton Park is a very unique facility operated by the Housing Authority of Kansas City Missouri. To live in one of the thirty-three units, residents must be grandparents with legal custody of their grandchildren. Usually, children end up with their grandparents because of traumatic circumstances. This can be the result of a parent’s death or incarceration. Parents may also be deemed by the courts as unable to care for their children because of drug addiction, abuse or other life issues. Over 70 children under the age of eighteen live at Pemberton Park and few have access to the Internet. The facility has a computer lab that is sorely out-of-date. In the coming weeks, we will begin a fund raising campaign that will bring free Wi-Fi to both of the buildings at Pemberton Park. We also plan to place computers in every apartment and to upgrade the PC lab and use it to teach the grandparents how to make the best use of the connectivity we will bring there.
NE Wyandotte Co. Community Technology Center Expansion
Because of a significant increase in use, we recently expanded our public access computer lab in Kansas City, Kansas to twenty-five PCs. It is the world’s first community computer lab powered by Google Fiber’s super fast gigabit small business service. In the year that the center has been open, it has been used by over 1,000 adults in the NE Wyandotte County community. It is located in one of the most distressed neighborhoods in the entire state and is across the street from the large Juniper Gardens housing project. Every day after the school buses drop off their students, the lab has been filled with children ages 8 to 16 years old. We are planning some special tech-oriented programs for them this summer. Volunteers are needed for this effort.
Our Awesome Tech Team
We could not accomplish all that we do without a team of solid, experienced IT professionals on our staff. All three have formal training in computer repair and networking. Rick Deane, COO and cofounder, has over twenty years of IT experience and ran his own company, NPO Tech Support. before starting Connecting for Good. Along with a bachelors degree in business, Karita Matlock, our production manager, studied Computer Information Systems at Johnson County Community College. Chris Wiley is a PC technician who joined our staff in January. He was formerly trained in computer repair, data recovery, software installation, computer maintenance, networking, and more through the Kansas City Kansas Community College and the W. E. B. DuBois Learning Center. Besides our computer refurbishing operations and maintaining wireless networks at low income housing projects, our team also provides IT support to nonprofit organizations throughout the Kansas City area.
Michael Liimatta, Ben Martin, Burton Kelso and Rick Deane
Great turnout for the Tech Mob electronics recycling event on April 11!
We received a good number of used PCs to refurbish for low income families. What could not be reused was hauled off to be disposed of responsibly by Ben Martin and staff at The Surplus Exchange.
Special thanks to Burton Kelso of Intregal Computer Consultants for organizing and promoting this event.
NE Wyandotte Community Technology Center: Probably the most significant event of 2014 was opening the Kansas City KS center in March. This project is a partnership with the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority. The center is across from the Juniper Gardens low income housing project where we created a four-block wide Wi-Fi hotspot in April 2013 that reaches about 300 households. The center is in the 66101 zip code which has the highest rates of crime and poverty in the entire state of Kansas.
With one of the first installations of Google Fiber’s small business plan, the Internet connection at the center is super fast. Since it opened in March, 1,100 adults and 700 teens and preteens have used the center’s twenty public access computers. We also offer free digital life skills classes on-site.
Last summer, we moved our refurbishing shop to the new Kansas center while continuing to conduct regular training sessions in the Reconciliation Services building at 3101 Troost in Kansas City MO. Our new community technology center is a model for similar programs in other Kansas City urban neighborhoods. In the coming year, we will be focusing on outreach to the Northeast area of Kansas City on the Missouri side of the state line. Our research has found that a very high percentage of families there are living on the wrong side of the Digital Divide.
Digital Life Skills Classes Reach More Inner City Residents: In 2014, 2,106 people from Kansas City’s urban neighborhoods learned about computer basics, e-mail and the Internet through our efforts. 244 class sessions were led by staff and volunteers at ten different sites in the urban core. 25% of those who participated had never used a computer. 80% were minorities and 75% had annual incomes of under $20,000. Two thirds of participants were women, most whom were over fifty and had at least one child living with them.
Last year we kicked off a new concept we call “Family Computer Days” which are sponsored by churches, schools and community organizations. We partner with them to prepare a day long training event tailored to the unique needs of the people they serve. Along with three or four training staff and volunteers, we bring along a trailer full of computers which can be taken home that day by those who participate in the educational sessions.
Refurbished Computers Go Where Few Families Own PCs: In 2014, nearly 1,000 refurbished computers found their way to parts of the city where as few as one in five households own a computer (2013 US Census). 20% of our refurbished PCs found their way to cash-strapped churches, schools and nonprofit organizations.
For individuals who qualify as low income and take our courses, we provide a complete desktop system for as low as $75.00. This work was accomplished thanks to the efforts of two full-time shop managers, interns and volunteers. We are very grateful for the many individuals, businesses, organizations and government entities who made these efforts possible by donating thousands of used computers last year.
Inexpensive Unlimited 4G Wireless Internet Service Launched: Connecting for Good continues to operate Wi-Fi mesh networks that supply free Internet to three low income housing facilities, reaching about 500 households. In our efforts to provide affordable connectivity to people we serve, we forged a partnership with EveryOneOn.org and Mobile Beacon. Launched in November 2014, we now offer a $10 a month plan with no long-term contracts or credit checks. It is the Internet equivalent of a “pay as you go” cell phone. And, because so many people in the neighborhoods where we work do not have bank accounts or credit cards, we are accepting cash payments for the monthly subscriptions. This year we look forward to the conversion of this service, which runs on the Sprint network, to full LTE providing even faster connections.
Equipping Nonprofits: In 2014, Connecting for Good emerged as an equipper of other organizations that are working to close the Digital Divide among their own constituents. Through hosting our training events, sending staff to train-the-trainer activities, refurbished PC partnerships, constructing computer labs, installing Wi-Fi, providing IT support and other activities, we’ve joined forces with local nonprofits to help more under served people become productive users of the Internet. As part of these efforts, we had the privilege of being one of the founding organizations of the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition.
Kansas City area community groups we worked with in 2014 include:
Avenue of Life
Black Family Technology Awareness Association
Blue Hills Community Services
Church of the Resurrection/Geeks for God
Cristo Rey Kansas City
Hispanic Economic Development Corporation
Ivanhoe Neighborhood Council
Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority
Kansas City Kansas Public Library
Kansas City Public Schools
|Kansas City Public Library
KC Digital Drive
Literacy Kansas City
Mutual Musicians Foundation
Upper Room/Swope Renaissance
Urban Neighborhood Initiative
Urban League of Kansas City
W. E. B. DuBois Learning Center
YMCA of Greater Kansas City
A Special Thanks to our Partners and Supporters: Connecting for Good exists because of the support of local foundations and many committed individual donors. For all the great support, we are very grateful. We want to especially acknowledge the following for making substantial financial investments toward our efforts in the past year:
- Breckinridge Capital Advisors
- UnifiedOnline!, Inc. (CTC/KCNAP)
- Diocese of Kansas City/St. Joseph
- Edward. F. Sweeney Foundation
- Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund
- Kates Foundation
- Ewing Kauffman Foundation
- R C Kemper Charitable Trust (UMB Bank)
While we are excited about last year all we accomplished last year, we are preparing to make an even biggest impact in 2015. We will share some of our plans in a later posting. Thank you for your continuing support!