S P R I N G 2 0 0 9 N E W S L E T T E R
VISIT OUR NEW WEBSITE!
Launched in mid-February, the new Alliance website features your communities and your projects. "I am pleased to have so much information available to our members and volunteers", said Marcel Fortin, Alliance Executive Director. "It is our intent to use the new website to showcase what our members are doing to help their communities."
Site visitors will find information about the many projects under Alliance oversight. Each has significant reach into rural West Virginia from a ground-roots approach. For example, the 2008 Technology Minigrant project has 41 participating teams with five or more team members. That's 205 people who are directly involved with bringing a new technology project into their community. It can be difficult to estimate how many community residents receive direct benefit from these 41 projects.
"In planning the new website, the goal was to be only two clicks away from any piece of information a site visitor may be looking for," said Gwen Hagaman, Alliance Marketing Director. "Webmaster Steve Reynolds and I worked together on content and technology to build this site. We believe it provides easy access to relevant information and has an expandable format to allow for growth."
Member Communities each have webpages that highlight current projects and accomplishments made there. Community leaders are listed so others may contact them for advice, help or direction on new project ideas.
Partnering organizations are featured with links to more in-depth information on their own websites. "This is a great way for us to thank our partners that give so much to help our members," explains Mr. Fortin. "I invite our members to find out more about our partner organizations and the role they play in advancing technology in West Virginia."
A resource directory, list of representatives, current technology news articles, and details about joining the Alliance are all part of the new website found at www.alliancewv.org.
"Our first website was very useful and allowed the Alliance to realize significant growth," continued Mr. Fortin. "Our new website presents our purpose and marketing image in a manner reflecting our organization as it is today actively promoting our communities."
Interactive "Feedback" and "Discussion" forums allow members to post stories and photos, or talk through a subject with other members using a topic thread-style online conversation. "I encourage everyone to explore and use this website," says Mr. Fortin. "It is a powerful tool that allows us to share information and get answers quickly."
Anyone who would like to submit articles, photos, videos, or other materials to be added to the Alliance website may either use the submission tools on the website, or send them to Ms. Hagaman by email.
MINIGRANTS CELEBRATION APRIL 4TH
People on 41 project teams for 2008 Technology Minigrants will be celebrating the completion of their projects on April 4th. The Preston County Sheltered Workshop in Reedsville is hosting the event.
Each project team will make a presentation to the group explaining their project, how they got it done and whom it helped. Details about the 2008 projects are posted on the Alliance Technology Minigrants webpage.
"I'd like to congratulate all of the minigrant teams on completing their projects. And, to thank Community Connect and Benedum for their support and confidence," said Marcel Fortin, Alliance Executive Director. For the past two years the Technology Minigrant Program has been funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and administered by the Alliance and its partner, the Community Connect Foundation.At the Celebration for completion of the 2007 minigrant projects, Norvill Clark of Richwood recollects, "I really enjoyed hearing about all the exciting projects from around the state. It made me feel good about participating with the Alliance, the group that helped all this get done. I'm excited to see the Alliance moving forward on additional technology projects." Mr. Clark was a team member from the KinetiX/Barbour County CDC Digital Presentation minigrant project.
"People are a little nervous when they start their presentations and look out at the audience," said Mr. Fortin. "Then they realize that the audience is filled with people just like them from other project teams around the state. They relax a little and enjoy telling the group about their project, team and community."
After the celebration, attendees will be asked to vote for the project they would most like to see duplicated in their own community. The project they choose will receive an award from the Alliance.
Last year's winner was Wyoming County's Project Lifesaver. Their team received a ticket and accommodations to attend the Create West Virginia Conference held at Snowshoe Resort last October. Project Lifesaver provided search and rescue equipment for citizens with brain disorders that could cause them to become disoriented, lost, or wander away. The money provided by the grant allowed the county to train emergency personnel as well as purchase tracking equipment. The project has sparked interest from the community and local churches, which are coming together to purchase additional tracking devices beyond the scope of the grant.
BUILDING NEIGHBORHOOD NETWORKS
Nothing says "West Virginia" like neighbors helping neighbors. That's the same approach residents of Coal River Road in Alum Creek WV took to show the value of accessing the internet by a wireless shared network. Their solution, called Coal River Road Neighborhood Wireless Network is a demonstration project of the Alliance and One Economy, Inc., which broadcast a single satellite signal to share with up to 15 neighbors. The test project demonstrated the practicality of creating neighborhood wireless networks to reach unserved and underserved rural settings.
One Economy, Inc. provided the necessary equipment. The Alliance provided the manpower and information resources. Network organizer Marcel Fortin supplied the land for placement of the satellite system and Natcor performed the installations.
As the organizer, Mr. Fortin visited several neighbors and told them about the demonstration opportunity. "Many of my neighbors were using slow speed dial-up connections," he said. "Others had no internet service at all." Those who wanted to connect were asked to sign an agreement allowing installation of the Meraki communication device.
Planning device location for maximum coverage was the most complicated issue of the installations. In some cases, brush was cut out of the way so there would be a direct signal from the satellite to the device. "There was no lengthy installation process," one neighbor said. "All I had to do was put this little device in my window facing the satellite. It's a very small device, hardly noticeable."
There are 27 people using the network now. "Someone is always on the computer in my house," explains another neighbor. "My wife looks up recipes, shops, and does the accounting. I am able to manage most of my job from my house. Very rarely do I have to go in to work. And my daughters use the internet for homework, chatting and games."
The system comes with a software package that makes it very easy to administrate. "I can set up bandwidth protocols or see how many people are online," said Mr. Fortin. "If other neighborhoods are able to set-up networks, the software generates billing that goes out by email automatically. It's very simple to administrate."
"I think it is great that the whole neighborhood is involved in this internet trial," explained a neighbor. "I'm glad that one of our neighbors is the one who is administrating this. It's helpful because if I have a question I can just call my neighbor and they can help me."
For more information about creating neighborhood wireless networks contact Marcel Fortin, at 304-756-2264.
ALLIANCE USE OF TECHNOLOGY
"We have to do more than talk about technology," said Marcel Fortin, Alliance Executive Director. "We need to lead the way by example to encourage use of technology across the state."
The Alliance always committed to technology expansion has already moved from using paper forms to online grant applications that can be completed, submitted and reviewed as needed. Frances Stewart, who works with the Town of West Union, was part of three project teams that submitted their minigrant applications online. "The process was very clearly presented to us and when we did have questions, Marcel was an email away," said Ms. Stewart.
Participants in the minigrant projects are encouraged to use the internet for submitting reports and for distributing press releases to the media. According to Mr. Fortin, data captured from online processes allow better evaluation of the success levels of Alliance-led projects.
"Our redesigned website allows us to showcase our work and provides a vehicle that is easily updated and reaches the multiple audiences we serve," said Mr. Fortin. Communities may direct people to the Alliance website to see activities that benefit their citizens.
Feedback and discussion areas allow for almost immediate responses to queries and suggestions. By sharing the projects and ideas, communities may find projects done elsewhere they have interest in replicating.
"As we move forward," Mr. Fortin continued, "we will be incorporating collaborative tools that will help the Alliance develop new programs and projects to benefit our communities. Input from members of our communities is vital to the Alliance in providing solutions that really make a difference."
In 2009 use of technology in communications will be expanded to include on-line training and on-line seminars by coordinating the use of underutilized distance learning facilities that exist throughout the state. "Our rural communities still have limited high speed broadband access and by using the distant learning sites, we can provide interactive training in facilities that are already available in our communities," explains Mr. Fortin.
Using existing wired-facilities provides efficiency and cost savings compared to holding training events in several locations, saving travel and meeting expenses. "Community members can go to relatively nearby distance learning labs and participate in an experience that is almost the same as ‘being there' with the trainer," said Mr. Fortin.
"Everyone is invited," Mr. Fortin concludes, "to share your ideas and give your feedback to others visiting the Alliance website. Send a message letting us know what kind of projects you think would enhance your community."
MEET JERRY EDENS
If you visit the City of Philippi, be sure to stop at the end of the historic covered bridge at Barbour County Community Development Corporation's (CDC) office and meet their Executive Director, Jerry Edens who is also Treasurer of the Alliance.
Mr. Edens has been involved since the first meetings where plans were made to establish the Alliance organization. "Marcel Fortin and I met at a conference in Summersville in 2005," he explained. "We worked with the Benedum Foundation to get $30,000 to start the Alliance. I believe that was the best investment Benedum has ever made."
After growing up in Richwood, Mr. Edens began a K-9 teaching career in Clay County. After just two years, he became a Principal and worked at nine different schools in Clay and Monongalia Counties over the next 33 years. He retired in Morgantown.
"I had just retired but wanted something to do," Mr. Edens explained. "I looked in the want ads and saw they were looking for an executive director over in Barbour County. I applied and got the job. It was my first private sector job. I was so excited!"
During the past four years, Mr. Edens has brought more than a half million dollars into Barbour County CDC to fund community enhancement projects. His leadership has accomplished:
· Barbour County Courthouse historic restoration
· School playground construction
· Sugar Creek projects for children
· Establishment of Philip Barbour High School Foundation
· Healthcare referral system for Barbour County
Mr. Edens works closely with Barbour County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Association (EDA). A good example is the development of industrial park space that is promoted by all three groups. The CDC is using a video presentation Mr. Edens prepared to advertise industrial spaces throughout Barbour County.
Always working to help students, Mr. Edens is also Treasurer for the Prodigy Foundation. Founded by Roy Lee Cooke, one of the famous "October Sky" rocket boys written about by Homer Hickam, West Virginia author and fellow rocket boy. Prodigy promotes science and math careers in West Virginia schools and to recognize outstanding science and math teachers.
"My number one success is being part of the Alliance," said Mr. Edens. "I welcome calls from anyone that wants to help improve their own communities." You can reach Jerry Edens at 304-457-1225.
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