Microsoft Unlimited Potential Software Grants Help Caregivers Focus on People, Not Paper

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 9, 2005 —Today at an economic roundtable event at the Jamestown Community College in Olean, New York, Microsoft announced 17 grants to local governments, community-based groups and educational institutions in the New York region. These grants are part of a larger Microsoft donation of Unlimited Potential software grants to support the Appalachian Regional Commission’s (ARC) initiative to expand the use of technology and telecommunications as tools for economic and community development. Linda Zecher, Microsoft vice president, U.S. Public Sector, was joined at the roundtable by U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and ARC Federal Co-Chair Anne Pope.

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (left), Microsoft U.S. Public Sector V.P. Linda Zecher (center) and Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-chair Anne Pope discuss Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential donation of more than $215,000 in software to 17 New York-based nonprofit groups, Aug. 9, Olean, N.Y.

“This is a wonderful gift to these communities and to the region,” Senator Clinton said. “This is a significant investment in the future of Western New York and the Southern Tier. I want to congratulate Microsoft and ARC for seeing the enormous potential of this gift, and I know it will pay dividends for years to come.”

Microsoft’s partnership with the ARC, whose mission is to bring technology resources to rural and underserved areas as tools for economic and community development, formed out of an ARC telecom project in Delhi, New York, where Microsoft staff members were introduced to ARC’s work to improve access to technology for rural communities. Since then, Microsoft has committed US$2 million in software grants to the people of Appalachia through its global Unlimited Potential program, which focuses on improving lifelong learning for underserved young people and adults by providing technology-skills training through community-based technology and learning centers (CTLCs).

“This is tremendously important to help our people get the education and training they need to compete in the new knowledge-based economy — in which, to be competitive, we must all embrace technology,” Pope says. “Just as water and sewer are infrastructure considered key to a community being competitive, things like telecommunications and high-speed broadband access should also be considered key infrastructure. Those communities that embrace technology are going to be the ones that move forward.”

Helping to Provide a “Continuum of Care”

The ARC has a regional network reaching people and organizations in over 2,000 communities across Appalachia. This includes Steuben County, N.Y., where Kinship Family and Youth Services is based. Kinship provides an array of child and family services, including residential diagnostic care for children, in-home family preservation services, therapeutic foster care, child health care, and residential chemical dependency recovery services across 12 counties.

Linda Zecher, Vice President, Microsoft U.S. Public Sector Group

Kinship features six programs, five of which are focused on early intervention and prevention services for struggling families with at-risk children. Such children are usually identified by teachers, school social workers or pediatricians and are then referred to Kinship through the county child welfare agency. Once this referral takes place, the children live in Kinship Children’s Home, a residential diagnostic home, for approximately 90 days. The facility, which is a little over a year old and the only one of its kind in the region, is where children are able to work with a clinical team consisting of a psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker, behaviorist, counselors and therapists. Comprehensive diagnostic testing that is performed reveals organic or environmental issues the child faces, and is used to make the most appropriate recommendations for their continuing care and treatment.

“Testing is done for both the children and their families,” explains Randy Regan, director of planning and development at Kinship. “The child may have been born with or developed an organic based illness, or came from a traumatic family situation where for whatever reason, they’re not receiving the love, guidance, and care they need to develop in a healthy manner. We have a philosophy of a ‘continuum of care’ — we want to identify the treatment needs of children early and provide their caregivers with the most appropriate services their child needs, so they can grow up, and in spite of these challenges, still do well academically, and have a normal and healthy family, community and social life.”

Since Kinship’s inception in 1969, the organization has done little marketing, advertising or fundraising for its services. Resources have always been put into improving existing services and developing new services as the community needed. However, with recent budget cuts at all levels of funding, and increasing operational costs, Kinship needed to find a way to make more people and organizations aware of its existence and importance — and thus be able to continue to offer its services to the people who need them — without drastically increasing costs. Without the Microsoft Unlimited Potential software donation, none of this would have been financially feasible, Regan says.

With a grant of nearly $45,000 in Microsoft software, Kinship plans to create its own database system, create a Web site, and produce a higher quality, more informative newsletter, which can go out more frequently to its constituents and supporters. Regan is excited by the prospect of being able to communicate on a significantly larger scale with the general public, with people who might either want to avail themselves of Kinship’s services, or with people who have been looking for a program like Kinship Family and Youth Services to support, but didn’t know where to offer their time or resources.

“We’ll be better able to develop the resources to fill service gaps and enhance services with a lower increase in costs,” said Regan. “We’ll be able to create a database system for donors. Our case workers and other staff will be able to use their time more efficiently, allowing more time to be spent with the people who need their assistance rather than doing paperwork. They’ll be able to use software to do that — which will increase security, quality, and efficiency in the preparation of reports. We’ll also be able to produce an annual financial report that will be clearer and more useful, in a fraction of the time. The amount of time we’ll save is phenomenal. Essentially what this software is going to do is allow us to take care of the children who are in our care with much higher efficiency and hopefully ensure a quality of care that will contribute to a brighter future for many more families and their children.

“It’s all just beginning for us. It’s wonderful.”

Achieving Independence Through Technology

Grant recipients were able to make selections from the most current Microsoft software titles that best further their missions and goals. Microsoft, ARC’s congressional delegation and ARC’s state and local partners worked together to identify and provide technical assistance to the recipients. Grant recipients engaged in community education and training will also receive the Microsoft Unlimited Potential IT Skills training curriculum, a resource to enable individuals to acquire the skills to use technology effectively to help themselves and their communities.

“To increase Appalachia’s competitiveness, we must train a computer- and technology-literate workforce,” says Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), who made the initial grant announcement in October 2004. “These new software grants will help Appalachia’s residents become lifelong learners and acquire the skills they need to compete successfully for jobs that are increasingly reliant on technology.”

In Binghamton, N.Y., the Association for Vision Rehabilitation and Employment, Inc. (AVRE) plans to use a $3,000 software grant to do just that — not only to improve internal resources and processes, but to help train and educate the people they serve — those who are blind or who have a severe visual disability. With as much as 70 percent of the blind population not working, it’s important to ensure employment viability and quality of life.

“There’s a lot of exciting potential here, especially with younger kids and the working age population in helping them make connections and develop their work skills for the 21stcentury,” says Bob Hanye, president and CEO of AVRE. “But there’s a lot of application for our seniors, as well. Many of them do not have basic computer skills. We want to make sure they have the skills to stay as independent as they possibly can.”

In addition to employing a number of staff who are legally blind, AVRE has three components to its program services: 1) Infant and children: Services such as sensory (vision) stimulation, orientation and mobility instruction at schools and around the community, independent living skills training both at home and at school, Braille and adaptive computer technology lessons, as well as instruction on connecting with peers by working with parents and school systems to ensure that the kids develop the skills to go forth and have successful lives; 2) Employment and career: Placement services help individuals prepare and search for employment, and provide assistance and guidance for resume writing, interviewing techniques and strategies, computer skills and assessments, job search networking, employer consultation, and social and communication skills; 3) Seniors: Designed for people age 55 and older who have vision-related disabilities. Most services are aimed at assisting the individual remain independent in his or her home environment.

“Technology plays a huge role in how we assist our visually impaired or legally blind consumers,” says Susan Jones, AVRE director of development and communications. “With the help of technology, we’re really able to help them maximize their potential and help with training programs at all levels.”

Bringing Broadband to Appalachia

One of the ARC’s goals is to bring high-speed broadband access to all 410 of its Appalachian communities by the year 2007, in keeping with President Bush’s goal on the national level.

“For communities to be competitive, they have to have broadband access and embrace the use of technology,” says Pope. “That’s key to improving lifelong learning opportunities for underserved youth and adults. All the grants we’re making are community based, where the community at large can use the software. Microsoft’s generous $2 million grant and the ARC’s expertise of the region will really help us serve these isolated, rural communities.”

The Allegany County Community Opportunity & Rural Development (ACCORD) Corporation is doing its share. ACCORD provides head-start and youth programs, programs to counter domestic violence, and housing services to low income populations. The group has its own wide-area network, linking 110 computers and 150 phones across seven program offices within the county. Its Microsoft Unlimited Potential grant of nearly $70,000 in software will enable the organization to upgrade components of the network — which ACCORD executive director Charles Kalthoff calls “the backbone to our whole organization” — as well as upgrade old computers that currently do not function correctly due to outdated software.

“With our wide-area network, we’re able to move information, direct staff, monitor results and data collection, and operate all of our finance systems through Internet-based forms so that we don’t use much paper between our offices, which are spread across 120 miles all over the county,” explains Kalthoff. “It enhances every little thing we do, just by giving us the ability to communicate so easily. This software grant is really a godsend for us, because we’re able to use more information quickly in order to provide service to the families that need us, and that’s tremendous.”

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