Volunteer Opportunity in Savannah

Brian Pitts brian at polibyte.com
Sun Mar 15 03:15:05 GMT 2009

I thought I'd mention an exciting development in Savannah I
just learned about. My apologies if this has already been mentioned here
and I missed it.

The city received a grant to expand their wifi offering. As part of the
expansion, they decided to offer it for free in a low-income area. Since
many of the residents don't have computers, they partnered with a local
nonprofit to start a computer refurbishing program. The program teaches
young people how to repair computers and install Ubuntu. They're looking
for hardware donations and volunteers.


November 06, 2008
Access granted
City, AWOL, partner to boost computer ownership on MLK corridor

* By Patrick Rodgers

THE SAVANNAH Development Renewal Authority (SDRA) and local arts
education non-profit All Walks of Life Inc. (AWOL) are joining forces to
help increase computer ownership among low-income families along the MLK
corridor as part of the City's wireless internet initiative, which will
create wi-fi hotspots along MLK from Bay Street to Gwinnett Street.

In January of this year, the City of Savannah received a $600,000 grant
from the state’s Technology Authority to increase wireless access to the
internet, effectively doubling the amount of fiber optic cable downtown
from 5 miles to 10 miles. The first 5 miles of fiber optic cable was
installed as part of the upgrades preceding the Olympics in 1996, and
has been used almost exclusively by the City since then.

“Over the years we’ve been looking to expand that network to do other
things,” explains Sean Brandon, former Assistant to the City Manager,
who is still overseeing the wireless project.

“The decision to pursue state funding was a confluence of a whole bunch
of things happening at one time. We were looking to expand, the state
was issuing this grant, and we were looking at how the network could be
leveraged socially. This all just seemed to happen within a two to three
month period.”

The new network will offer three tiers of service—one dedicated solely
to City-operated computers, a second that will offer low-cost, unlimited
access, and a third that will offer free, limited access to residents
along the MLK corridor.

“It’s a two-year project from beginning to end as far as installation of
the fiber and other infrastructure,” says Paul Federling of the SDRA.

“Our part of the project is more of a marketing and outreach aspect
geared at the Montgomery and MLK corridor.”

One of the issues facing the SDRA was “the digital divide,” the lack of
computer ownership among low-income residents in areas like Yamacraw and
Kayton-Frazier, which became a stumbling block for the planned expansion.

The solution was found in a partnership with local non-profit
organization AWOL Inc, whose new IT program, affectionately known as The
Goon Squad or G-Squad, takes donated computers and teaches young people
how to repair them.

“The mission and activities of AWOL fits so nicely with what we’re
trying to accomplish,” Federling says. “What they were already doing
with some of the new programs geared at tech training just seemed to fit
almost perfectly with what we are trying to accomplish.”

Once the donated computers have been cleaned and tested, all the
existing software is uninstalled, and an open source Linux-based
operating system known as Ubuntu is installed along with open source
Office and other programs like games, media players, web browsers and more.

The open source software is completely compatible with more commonly
used software applications like Microsoft Office, but it’s available
without the exorbitant licensing fees that would have to be paid to
install Windows, Office and other corporately developed programs. The
open source software also tends to run more efficiently, meaning that
even if a computer is several years old, it can still be useful.

“We’re giving these computers a new lease on life,” explains Murray
Wilson, a local network consultant who is volunteering time to help
instruct the G-Squad.

Besides the positive environmental impact of reducing the amount of
electronics that end up in landfils, AWOL’s IT program effectively
addresses two local problems at once, providing invaluable job skills to
local young people who want to learn more about computers, and
increasing access to technology and the internet on a local level by
giving away the refurbished computers for free, allowing recipients to
use the internet for school projects, find jobs, or take online courses
at a local college.

According to a study by Kids Count, a division of the Baltimore-based
Annie E. Casey Foundation, which advocates for the well-being of
children and families, 48 percent of young people in Georgia grow up
without internet access at home, ranking 42nd out of 50 on a national level.

Additionally, 36 percent of Georgia’s youth don’t have a computer at
home (41st in the country), an unfortunate fact that leaves many kids in
the state at a great disadvantage in the technology driven job market.

“Savannah is lagging education-wise behind other communities when it
comes to the use of technology with children,” says AWOL’s Executive
Director DaVena Jordan.

“Kids are starved for technology here. It makes sense that some of the
kids who came into our program didn’t even have email addresses. It’s
2008, what 19 year old doesn’t have an email address? It’s crazy. That’s
largely because they don’t have a computer at home and they don’t have
internet access.”

AWOL’s goal is to refurbish up to 20 computers per week, and thanks to
initial donations from several local companies, including Memorial
Health, and over a dozen personal computers donated during GreenFest,
they have already collected over 100 units, including both PCs and Macs.

“Word of mouth has been spreading like crazy,” says AWOL’s CEO Tony
Jordan. “We’re getting 5-10 computers a day now. I’ve got computers out
there that I can’t even pick up because we don’t have space for them
all. We’ve already filled up a room in our office and rented a storage

If everything goes according to plan, AWOL will be ready to begin
distributing the refurbished computers sometime early in 2009, around
the same time that the new wi-fi becomes available.

“What we’re gearing up for at this time is to have the fiber in place by
the end of the year and to have service bandwidth available during the
first quarter of ’09,” Federling says.

“The grant portion plays out over the next two years, but what we’re
seeking to develop is a sustainable system that will go well beyond
that. We don’t just want to get it up and running in the first two
years, we want [the program] to go long past that.”

If the wireless program works along MLK, the City has plans to begin to
expand to other neighborhoods as well.

“The plan that we have in mind is to build out roughly five miles of
fiber more. That will cover the MLK corridor as well as downtown
Savannah,” Brandon says. “Then we would move year to year to expand that
network into other parts of the city wherever possible. It will be
pretty easy to expand once we’ve got those components in.” cs
For more information about how to donate computers to AWOL's G-Squad
program, or to find out more about receiving a free computer once they
become available, contact the All Walks of Life office at 912.303.4987,
or email qburroughs at awolinc.org.

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