Stephen and I have written here a number of times about the Neil Squire Society (NSS). That is no accident. We both happen to believe that the organization is special and the people who run it equally so. I recently had a tour of their offices and left there both impressed and touched by the experience. It is interesting how chance events in life, or serendipity, steers the course of our existence. I first encountered NSS at the CIPS Informatics annual conference this year in Victoria. Somehow one of those ‘connections’ was made. I had the feeling that our paths would cross again. Indeed they did since Stephen had the great idea of inviting them to EnergizeIT06. Microsoft was kind enough to provide some T-shirts for sale as a fund raiser for them. The connection was now pretty much cemented.
I didn’t really give it much further thought until one day a few weeks ago, Stephen sent me an email saying that the NSS were looking for 10 used laptops of a certain spec and could I help? Well, used desktops are not too difficult to come across but used laptops usually present a bit more of a challenge. Not being one to shy away from a challenge I put my thinking cap on! Of course, VANTUG has 600+ members combined with 6 degrees of separation might just provide the one ‘hit’ that we needed. I was hoping that even if none of the VANTUG members could help that at least they could spread the word, knowing it was for a very good cause. At first there was nothing for well over a week and then I got an email saying that 10 used laptops (IBM Thinkpads as it happens) wasn’t a problem – when would you like to pick them up? As it turned out the response was from a VANTUG member (gotta love those VANTUG guys :)). The delay was simply one of administration issues.
The story then took an interesting turn. The response was from the IT Manager from a well known local independent school (no names will be mentioned since it is my belief that they wish that to be the case for now). Although, I had heard the name I knew little else about the school. When I went to collect the laptops I was offered a tour of the school and the computer facilities. Impressive would be a total understatement. They have more equipment than most medium sized companies and make excellent use of it. I don’t plan to say too much here because it might form the basis for a future article but a few highlights will give you some idea: all Grade 10 – 12 students have a tablet PC used for taking lesson notes; the school is equipped with cellular wifi so that a connection is maintained as they move from class to class; in Grade 2 students are given their first server file storage space; most lessons are conducted with some involvement of a computer; all teachers must be computer literate to fairly high degree to be employed, etc..
As a sidebar I later discovered that my daughter-in-law would like her children to go there (there is one so far – if you ever IM with me the picture is my beautiful little granddaughter not me in my second childhood – let’s not go there….). So I asked her what my son thought of that. She said that he had said, “over my dead body – far too expensive”. I replied, “don’t make it too bloody, just tell him gently that he doesn’t really have a choice” :):).
During the tour of the school I was shown the ‘obsolete’ equipment ‘junk’ room. I figured that their ‘junk’ might just be NSS’s ‘gold’. They refurbish PC’s for their handicapped clients and have distributed over 800 to date. So I ‘hooked’ the two up and since then NSS have visited the school and benefited from yet more laptops and other equipment, and I believe will get first dibs in the future. When I took the original 10 laptops (it was actually 11 – I figured that either somebody couldn’t count or it was a baker’s 10) to NSS, the reception was absolutely amazing. In that moment every scrap of time and effort was worthwhile! It turned out they needed the laptops for a new distance learning program. They were like kids with new toys at Xmas. To make for a perfect day I also got to meet the lady who runs one of their offices in the BC interior, where some of the laptops were going. To make it even better she was an ex-Brit like me and we instantly got on, incidentally before I actually knew who she was.
So you never know what you can do until you really try. Serendipity has a way of giving you a helping hand and opening other doors if you look for the opportunities. Carpe diem!
Quite a remarkable series of events and Graham is one of those special people--you ask and he always finds a way :-). For their support to NSS and as a thank you, I will be speaking at the school this fall to the students, teachers, parents, and community [they suggested opening it up to a wider audience]. Ah, but who arranged this--you would guess Graham right? And you are right again together with the IT manager who stepped up with the laptop offer. You find the dots always connect, if you have faith that they will.
Thank you for the kind words Stephen but the heroes here are the people who run organizations like NSS, and their clients. In NSS's case one visit is enough to show you the odds that their handicapped clients are trying to overcome. One particularly amazing story that I heard when I was there was from their placement manager, ie. he tries to get them gainful employment often after some form of re-training.
I asked him if there was a recent notable success. He told me a about a lady who had retrained as a legal secretary. He had applied to a large Vancover law firm on her behalf. In conversation with HR Manager of the firm he was asked how many words a minute she could type. To which he replied 35. He said there was a long pause followed by "that's not very good". He replied "true, but that's with her feet!". I have a hard time doing 35 with my fingers (singing and touch typing never were my talents).
The lady got the job and the firm are delighted with her. What she may lack in typing speed she more than makes up for in attitude. She has been given a second chance and grabbed it with both feet! Getting the job was important but regaining a sense of purpose was the most important. Without a sense of purpose we all struggle to survive.
I am sure that there are many more stories like that from NSS and other organizations. It is for those reasons, and some closer to home, that I am very motivated to help. In fact, I am hoping that in the future the IT community on a wider scale can help chartitable and non-profit organizations with their IT challenges. We have the skills, knowledge and experience and they definitely have the need!
Remarkable story Graham! There's a upcoming podcast with Gary Birch, NSS's executive director that will appear in September here in CIM. It will also be highlighted in the editorial column, blogged down, in Computing Canada.