History of Our Organization
The organization came together partly in response to Google’s announcement that they would make our area the very first Google Fiber city. Michael Liimatta and Rick Deane had been friends for a number of years. Michael was then Chief Academic Officer for City Vision University, an online college he helped to found in 1998.. Rick’s company, NPO Tech Support, provided technology support to nonprofits. In the Spring of 2011, they banded together with some other providers of IT services to nonprofits to conduct a series of training event.
About the same time, Google, Inc. announced that it had chosen Kansas City as the first city in the US to build its ultrahigh speed 1 Gb fiber network. The group saw this as an opportunity to extend Internet connectivity to under served kids and their families throughout the KC area. Rick had previously installed sixteen mesh networks in low income communities as a contractor for One Economy Corporation. Using Google Fiber to power these networks seemed to be the perfect approach to supplying Internet service to those who could not afford it.
A board of directors was formed and Connecting for Good, Inc. was incorporated in the State of Kansas in November 2011. With the sole mission of digital inclusion, we went to work to make sure our community’s most vulnerable members would have the tools and the knowledge to use the Internet to improve their lives. We wanted to make sure that no one was left out of KC’s emergence as a tech hub.
Throughout all of 2012, board meetings were held at the headquarters of Rosedale Development Association in Kansas City, KS. The organization received tax status exempt status from the IRS in August 2012.
In September 2012, our all volunteer organization assisted with the Google Fiber preregistration campaign by helping a number of “fiberhoods” qualify for installation, especially the under resourced neighborhoods East of Troost Avenue. One initial goal was met when Hanover Heights, located in Rosedale, was the first KC neighborhood to receive the super fast fiber Internet service. This area soon became home to the KC Startup Village, a growing community of high tech entrepreneurs attracted to the area by the possibilities of Google Fiber. After these efforts concluded, however, it was obvious to us that many economically challenged families were not going to benefit from the transformation high speed fiber access would bring to our community
Connecting for Good received a funding jump start in September 2012 when local mobile applications developer, One Louder Apps, won the national Social Madness competition sponsored by the Business Journals based in Charlotte, NC. Their prize for being the US small company that is most active in social media was the opportunity to give $10,000 to the charity of their choice. They chose Connecting for Good.
The plan to bring free Wi-Fi Internet to Rosedale Ridge was not abandoned. While exploring an economical means to supply bandwidth to low income families, Connecting for Good began its partnership with the Free Network Foundation. With technical assistance from the FNF, which focuses on facilitating community wireless networks, the organization became a wireless ISP. With a router installed at a data center in a downtown high rise, Connecting for Good purchases bandwidth wholesale and uses microwave technology to deliver it to its projects. At Rosedale Ridge, this arrangement delivers broadband Internet to all 168 households for just $9.00 per year per unit.
One Economy Corporation provided equipment and grant funding to make the first two network installations possible. The Social Media Club of Kansas City and the residents of the KC Startup Village provided support through their volunteer efforts and a used computer drive.
In December 2012, Connecting for Good installed its first free Wi-Fi network in the 168 unit Rosedale Ridge low income housing complex in Kansas City, KS. Along with bringing Internet connectivity to nearly 400 residents, half of whom were under 12 years of age, the group also gave digital literacy training to fifty residents and provided several with refurbished laptops for $50.
Connecting for Good moved into its Westport center in January 2013 and began to provide a variety of services to the community aimed at closing the Digital Divide among its most under resourced residents. Two additional low income properties received free wireless Internet in the first few months of 2013. In March Posada del Sol, a 60 unit low income senior housing facility in Kansas City MO, was “lit up” in partnership with Westside Housing. And in April, a four block wide Wi-Fi “hotspot” was created to bring free Internet to all 390 units of the Juniper Gardens public housing project. This was done in partnership with the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority Also in March 2013, Rick left the board of directors and he and Dan Harmon became the organization’s first employees.
On July 1, 2013, Connecting for Good headquarters moved to 3101 Troost in Kansas City, Missouri. This location provided more room for growing programs with a separate PC refurbishing workshop in the lower level, more space to conduct training programs and second floor offices. Most importantly, the corner of 31st and Troost is one of the busiest intersections in the inner city, resulting in greater outreach to the surrounding community.
The building sits on the highest elevation in Kansas City Missouri’s urban core with a view for several miles in every direction from the rooftop for line-of-sight AirFiber dishes. It is operated by Reconciliation Services, which has been reaching out to the surrounding community for over twenty years. Annually, they provide social services to nearly 10,000 needy residents of the Troost Corridor. The building is also home to St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church.
By May 2013, Connecting for Good was providing free bandwidth to over 500 low income households using Wi-Fi mesh networks and “backhaul” delivered through wireless microwave point-to-point technology. A number of potential projects in partnership with local nonprofit organizations, schools and local government bodies are currently in the discussion stages.
Connecting for Good actively worked to promote adoption of Google Fiber’s lowest tier plan – 7 years of connectivity for a $300 installation fee. In the closing months of 2013, it focused on a Fall Digital Inclusion Campaign to bring digital literacy training and inexpensive computers to the twenty “fiberhoods” that were last to qualify for installation of Google Fiber. The goal was to make sure that residents in these most needy areas had the hardware and knowledge to take advantage of this opportunity.
In August, 2013, Connecting for Good joined four other nonprofit organizations to establish the KC Freedom Network. The group is committed to building a community network that will reach under served areas of Kansas City with inexpensive Internet connectivity.
Connecting for Good was one of five local organizations to receive support in the first round of funding from the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund in November 2013. The fund, managed by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, was established by Google Fiber and other local funders to provide resources to organizations with programs that are bridging the Digital Divide. This investment was used for major upgrades in the PC refurbishing operations and the hiring of a full-time manager for the workshop. Additionally, it provided funds to purchase used equipment wholesale and train other agencies in digital literacy instruction skills.
In October 2013, working with the Free Network Foundation, Connecting for Good conducted engineering and feasibility studies to assess the opportunities for extending wireless connectivity to Kansas City’s urban core neighborhoods in partnership with the Kansas City Public Schools, the Upper Room and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative. The areas surveyed encompass approximately 10,000 households in the urban core.
Thanks to funding from the Kansas City Digital Inclusion fund and the Kauffman Foundation, in January 2014 as major upgrade was made to the computer refurbishing facilities located in the basement of 3101 Troost. This included new walls, shelves, workbenches, new heating system and electrical system upgrades to handle increased demand for power. The same month, the staff was expanded and Karita Matlock was hired to serve as full-time manager of refurbishing operations.
In March 20134 Connecting for Good established the Northeast Wyandotte County Community Technology Center in a partnership with the Kansas City Kansas Housing Authority. Located on Third Street in Kansas City, KS, it is across across the street from the Juniper Gardens housing project where we built the Wi-Fi network a year earlier. The center opened with a 20 workstation public access computer lab operating in the building with regularly scheduled digital literacy classes. With bandwidth supplied by the Juniper Gardens wireless network, the center is focusing on spreading digital literacy and technology adoption in one of the most needy area of the Kansas City metropolitan area. The refurbishing operations were later moved to the Kansas center in the fall.
The summer of 2014 was the beginning of expanded outreach thanks to increased participation of interns. They came from the Kauffman Startup Scholars program, the American Indian Council, Mennonite Voluntary Services and the Kansas Department of Family Services. With the fall school year, Connecting for Good began serving as a Corporate Work Study site for high schools students from Cristo Rey Kansas City, which serves lower income inner city families.In the summer of 2014, through the Family Computer Days digital life skills classes were conducted at a number of different sites in the urban core. With a trailer full of refurbished computers, those who participate in the event can take home their own computer that day.
In November of 2-14, Connecting for Good began it’s partnership with EveryOneOn.org and Mobile Beacon to begin offering the unlimited 4G wireless data plan for just $10 a month.
In the year 2014, nearly 2,000 individuals from Kansas City’s most under resourced neighborhoods took part in the organization’s free digital life skills classes. 25% of them had never used a computer before. The refurbishing operations produced over 1,000 high quality computers that found their way to low income families and cash strapped nonprofit organization.
As an equipper of other organizations that are involved in digital inclusion, Connecting for Good was a founding member of the Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition and played a major role in the October 17, 2014 Digital Inclusion Summit. The organization will continue to play a key role in collaborating with city governments, public libraries and other civic organizations to advance these efforts in our city.
In the process of developing its outreach programs, the original vision of assisting nonprofit organizations with their technology needs has been realized. Connecting for Good supplies inexpensive refurbished computer equipment to nonprofit organizations, especially those with limited budgets. as well as installing low cost Wi-Fi networks in their facilities. The efforts to get under-resourced families online has given the nonprofits that serve them a more efficient way to communicate with their clients and to provide them with services. And the organization has partnered with other groups to provide technology-centered internships and community service opportunities to young people.
In November 2015, Connecting for Good opened the Linwood Area Computer Center to serve the residents of Kansas City, Missouri who live east of Troost Avenue. Computers at the center are available for free use by the public. Regular classes are conducted on computer basics and use of the Internet and email. High school students can bring their school-issued laptops and tablets to do their homework and other constructive activities. The center has a special emphasis on providing digital skills to help area residents improve their employment possibilities. Workforce development classes go beyond basic digital literacy training and include more advanced classes in such topics as online job search, resume development, and basic Microsoft Word and Excel.
Also in November 2015, Michael Liimatta, the organization’s co-founder, received an appointment from the Office of the Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to serve as manager of ConnectHome. Announced by President Obama on July 15, the pilot program was launched in twenty-seven cities and one tribal nation and to reach over 275,000 low-income households – and nearly 200,000 children – with the support they need to access the Internet at home. Internet Service Providers, non-profits and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units.