What's more, neither Jones nor any of her four co-workers knew enough about technology, their new office computers or those of their vendors to judge whether the prices the consultants were charging were fair.
Now concerned about Y2K, yet hoping to avoid quick scams and huge bills, Jones turned to the Y2K Buddy Project, a program created by the Leadership Council of the Metropolitan Washington Human Services Coalition that's designed to help local nonprofits prepare for the millennium.
As a result, Jones' organization has prepared its equipment for the date change and is on its way to confirming the readiness of the companies it deals with.
Here's how the Buddy Project works: Qualifying nonprofit organizations apply for help. The application is reviewed. If it is approved, a volunteer is assigned to that agency. The volunteer, who has undergone three hours of training, visits the agency to identify and resolve Y2K compliance issues.
Nonprofit human service agencies with budgets of less than $2.5 million qualify to be visited by a 'Y2K Buddy.' Organizations within the city that don't qualify for complete assistance -- either because of budget size or because they don't involve human services -- can send members of their staff to the Buddy Project's training program if they agree to serve as buddies to other agencies in exchange.
The program's volunteers are Washington, D.C., citizens like Christine Trafford who are looking for opportunities to help others. Trafford, a lawyer who has taken some computer programming classes, said the Buddy Project sounded more interesting to her than painting or picking up roadside trash. 'I thought it might be a good opportunity not only to give to the community but also to learn something in the process,' she said.
Trafford tested the computers of Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS, a local service agency with a $500,000 budget and a staff of five. Executive Director Barry Goodinson praised the program, saying it allowed his agency to fix compliance problems, make decisions about the importance of irreparable programs, and develop backup systems 'in case something should go awry.'
Goodinson likes the idea of casual computer users offering technical help. 'They speak English rather than 'computerese,' so you don't feel stupid,' he said.
Project Director Steve Kane believes the Buddy Project highlights a much-needed but underused type of community service in which volunteers use technical skills, rather than physical labor, to help others.
Buddies do not have to classify as computer whizzes, Kane said, but just be comfortable with computers, have some basic knowledge, and be willing to follow directions provided in the project's manual, titled 'Six Step Approach to Year 2000 Compliance.' Phone support is available to volunteers in case they have any questions while working on-site. Following the visit, the volunteer prepares a report and follows up with a phone call to the agency to check on Y2K progress.
Organizations that apply for help must sign a waiver stating that they will not hold the program's organizers or volunteers responsible for any Y2K-related losses or problems. So far, 127 organizations have signed up for the service and 81 volunteers have applied to be buddies.
Buddy Project organizers say they are saving agencies hundreds or even thousands of dollars in private computer consulting costs by giving them the tools and support they need without the cost. To any agencies worried about the quality of 'free' consulting, Kane points out that the project operates on a $50,000 grant from the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation.
Agencies receiving assistance seem to be pleased with the help. 'I have never had a nonprofit call me and complain about a volunteer,' Kane said.
The Y2K Buddy Project serves Washington, D.C., only, Kane said.
Supporters of the project include the Washington Council of Agencies, Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, Associated Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, Greater DC Cares, Council of Latino Agencies, Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital, and The Support Center of Washington.
Help for nonprofits is available on the Internet:
Steve Kane, project director for the Y2K Buddy Project, recommends the following web sites for nonprofits seeking help with Y2K compliance.
Free Y2K Software Tool for checking computers and software:
Software to check data files for possible non-compliance:
Free Y2K Action Guides to download:
Sites with listing of compliance levels of hardware and software:
Sites with good resources and general Y2K materials:
Contacts: Sarah Evans, director of public relations and marketing, Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capitol, Washington D.C.; phone: 202-237-1670; fax: 202-274-2161; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.gscnc.org. Barry Goodinson, executive director, Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS, Washington D.C., 202-347-8077; fax: 202-628-0234; e-mail: email@example.com. Angela Jones, executive director, DC Action for Children, Washington, D.C., 202-234-9404; fax: 234-9108; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.dckids.org>. Steve Kane, project director, Y2K Buddy Project, Washington, D.C., 202-274-3316; fax: 202-274-2161; e-mail: y2K@gscnc.org.
Background:Y2K Buddy Project web site: www.y2kbuddyproject.org. Margaret Singleton, volunteer, Y2K Buddy Project, Washington, D.C., 202-882-4376.
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