Twice in the last month I’ve been contacted by friends I’ve made in the local tech community with questions about tech volunteering they are doing, or planning to do for local non-profits. I, hopefully, was able to provide them with some pointers and info to help them out.
I find that awesome. Not the me helping them out part, but the fact that they’ve gotten engaged and are giving back some of their vital skills to local organizations in need.
Over the past couple of years, through my work with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, and the IBM year of service, I’ve realized that tech volunteerism is quite a rare thing. While there are a lot of techies in our area, when most of them volunteer, they do so in a non tech role. They are board members, and program leaders, which is good and important, but the very real technology needs are often overlooked.
Those conversations, plus a few other in the last month, have made me really start thinking about more ways to encourage and nurture more of this in our area. I’d love to have a peer group where I could share these experiences, and learn from others. This is a whole other master plan.
So, if you are a techie of any sort (developer, designer, it guru), consider giving those skills back to your local community. It’s something very few can give, and very many need.
Recently the Poughkeepsie Farm Project received a $100,000 grant for the Building Bridges program to attack hunger in the city of Poughkeepsie. This is part of a Department of Agriculture initiative to fund pilot programs and see what works so that they can apply it at a larger level in the US. 10 grants were given, and by all appearances the PFP was the smallest of the organizations that got the grant.
Which made me wonder. My major contribution to the organization has been a revitalized website, which I’ve been working on for two years. As we were approaching our annual volunteer retreat I dug into the analytics, and not surprisingly there were hits from the Dept of Ag in there. The website was not the reason that we got this grant, Susan Grove is an impressive organizer, and has come up with a great program. But I’m sure it helped.
It helped to show that as an organization we have resources at many levels, including a solid technical backing. It helped because it highlighted the depth and breadth of the programs run by the organization. It helped because it had current information on current programs, and thus showed how high the activity level is. It made an impact by exposing all that is done in the PFP in a way that’s easy to see and consume from the outside.
I felt very good that I was part of a team that helped make this happen.
I had a quite productive weekend working on the Poughkeepsie Farm Project site, and learned a lot of useful things about Drupal in the process.
I now understand why core profiles are going away in Drupal 7, because they really do suck. All the flexibility and features that you get used to with custom content types and views go away when you are working on profiles. This became an issue as we were trying to create a Board of Directors page that was built dynamically from user accounts, and actually wanted to expose a draggable view to let people order lists of users manual (alphabetic sort wasn’t quite what we were looking for). I managed to convert over to content profiles, and life got a lot better. The results are here.
This weekend we pushed out the first newsletter in the new format using the epublish module. I’ve been working with Susan (executive director) and Jane (newsletter editor) for the last month to get this right. There is a lot of initial investment here on all sides as I had to make a few code changes to get this to work well for us, and a lot of theming. It’s especially tricky as we’re trying to make an HTML email look basically just like the page people see, even though they go through entirely different templates and theme paths, and html support in email clients is far less intelligent than in browsers.
I also managed to collect and submit my patches upstream, so I feel like a good little open source citizen there.
Recipes submission and indexing are now live on the site, using the really well put together recipe module. I had to build a slightly clever hack to list relevant recipes from the produce pages. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to get epublish and recipes to play nicely together, because right now they don’t. They both do slightly funny hacking with the body field and what’s in it, which is going to require patching one or both to get the display we want.
The events infrastructure on the site is now using a local calendar instead of just loading from Google Calendar. This lets us have a google calendar compatible feed. As well as having our event links go to content in our site instead of loosing the user on a Google Calendar page. There are still a few kinks to work out here, but overall this is going pretty well.
All of these have been in the works for the bulk of January, and it’s great to get this stuff coming to fruition. Looking forward to how these are received by the membership. Now I’ve just got to make a few front page changes and we’ve got to pull together the volunteer opportunity database, and the main backend work for the 2011 season will be accomplished.