Volunteer Outreach Helps Washington Nonprofits Prepare for Y2K

When technology consultants approached Angela Jones’ nonprofit
organization to offer their Year 2000 testing services, she turned
them away. ‘We simply couldn’t afford their fees,’ said Jones, who
is executive director of DC Action for Children, a Washington,
D.C., advocacy organization.

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:

  • OnMark 2000 Y2K Computer Test and Fix Software — Free program
    to check and repair your computer for compliance;
    www.onmark.viasoft.com/.

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:

  • Vendor 2000 — Look up almost any product or software for Y2K
    compliance:
    www.vendor2000.com/.

Sites with good resources and general Y2K materials:

  • Small Business Administration site — Very good materials and
    resources:
    www2.sba.gov/y2k/.

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:
sevans@gscnc.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:
ecradc@aol.com. Angela Jones,
executive director, DC Action for Children, Washington, D.C.,
202-234-9404; fax: 234-9108; e-mail:
ajones@dckids.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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