Last year at this time, I had so much new information swirling around my head I thought it was just going to pop off my shoulders and, like that meatball, roll right out the door. I had just represented the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland at the Southern Maryland GiveCamp 2010, and we had received a brand-spanking-new, free, professionally-built website with free hosting for life. I remember feeling so awed and grateful that I couldn't help but write about it afterwards.
Not to be weird about it or anything -- it's a website, for heaven's sake -- but working with the volunteers at SoMDGC and receiving the new website were close to life-changing experiences:
- The ASSG/SoMD went from being "unfindable" on a Google search to being the No. 1 listing just three weeks later.
- We have had a 27% increase in our listserv membership in the year between the two GiveCamps, and we're getting closer to my personal goal: I want the 600 or so families impacted by autism spectrum disorders in Southern Maryland to not be a member of the ASSG/SoMD because they choose not to be, not because they don't know about us.
- I also wanted people to have access to a calendar that lists upcoming meetings, events, and workshops because I believe that helping our children has to start with education. The Google Analytics feature embedded in the website shows me that we have a pretty consistent spike in visitors around the middle of the month, telling me that people are checking the calendar for the date of the next support group meeting.
- We've expanded our presence by diving into the world of social media. We're on Twitter (something that still shocks me), and after this past weekend, Facebook, too. Granted, I have to delete a bunch of spam followers (I'm sure there's a word for them), but my tweet about being at #SoMDGC got retweeted by a local news/events group!
- On a personal level, I've explored new ideas, pushed myself outside my boundaries and my comfort zone, met new people, made new friends, and discovered that I have the potential to be a partial geek (unless that's like being a little bit pregnant). Life is good...
This year, I got to be on the other side of a givecamp -- I was a non-technical volunteer, and I got to help with planning the event. Truth be told, I didn't do a whole lot, but that's because the SoMDGC organizer, Jim Pendarvis, is fabulous. He knows what he wants, and he goes out and makes it happen. He is truly devoted to SoMDGC and to giving back to the organizations that give to others.
I also helped out a bit during the weekend event, but not in the ways I expected, really. The other non-technical volunteers, after only one other givecamp under their belts, have the logistics down to a science. Registration, meals, even trash collection, all went off without a hitch -- or if there was one, it wasn't visible to the volunteers! What I ended up doing was working through setting up Twitter and Facebook with two non-profit organizations, and in the process, setting up a Facebook page for the ASSG/SoMD -- something that I have been meaning to do this whole year. Happy side benefit!
During SoMDGC 2010, in addition to 19 non-profit organizations' having their IT needs met, a lot of lessons were learned, shared, and incorporated into SoMDGC 2011. One of the biggest was to have more bandwidth on the wireless network this year. (At least I think that's what they said the issue was, that and "pointing" something or other in our building's direction...) This year, I didn't hear a single person, myself included, talking about slow speeds or crashing the system.
Another lesson learned was to gather the non-profits' requirements earlier and have them posted on Google Docs for the technical volunteers. Doing this then allowed the technical coordinator to make team assignments well in advance of the event, and team members could do all that "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" stuff before they even left home.
Other changes ranged from the addition of large tables in the classrooms for better work surfaces and team collaboration to the choices of beverages on hand.
During SoMDGC 2011, 13 non-profit organizations had their IT needs met in a more efficient, streamlined way. (I'm sure a listing of this year's non-profit projects, with links to new websites, will soon join last year's on the "Non-Profits" tab of Southern Maryland GiveCamp.) If this year's non-profits are as satisfied with their projects as I was with mine, I'm sure there were some happy tears,,,,