One day about twenty years ago I got a call from the local school district Superintendent’s office wanting me to stop by when I could. It has been a few decades since I was called into a school official's office, so I had no idea why… and no idea why I felt guilty about something? My parents brought me up “guilty until proven innocent” and I found myself on the guilty side more often than I like to admit. What had I done now?
Turns out it was nothing I had done but something I wanted to do very much when asked. The Super had a plan. Texas was awarding $500,000 computer/internet grants requiring a $50,000 match and an application process that was rather involved. Our town was underserved in the number of computers in the home for school kids to use. Would I help? Of course.
The plan was to raise the matching funds, no small feat in itself and put a plan in place for internet infrastructure and computer access. We created what was called a Community Network. We were awarded the grant and miraculously raised the matching funds.
Being a Cowtown isn’t so bad when Cargill Corp owns a huge cattle feed yard just outside of town. They donated $20,000 which took the pressure off a bit. This led to other donations, small and large till we reached that $50k. Personally, at the time, 50k might as well have been 50 million as our area is not exactly cash-rich, but it happened.
While the internet was the big thing… it was really a red herring for the real purpose of the grant, getting a computer into the home of every high school student. In the late 1990s or early 2000s and in our predominately Hispanic school, kids had few computers. A big plus was we only had a couple of hundred kids in high school, so it seemed doable.
And like the naïve country folk we were, we did it.
It went smoothly at first, then the CAVE people got involved. Having served elected office for multiple terms, I knew a lot about this phenomenon. Citizens Against Virtually Everything… CAVE people. We either didn’t check with them first, get their permission (not necessary but you know the type) or do it in a manner that they agreed with right down to the color of the laptops.
That’s right… the color of FREE laptops that were given to certain groups.
To give a taste of the experience consider this. We outfitted an entire church building with free computers and internet access. The only church to participate in the community network to that degree. I was unfortunate enough to be elected as the President of the network non-profit and with that came phone calls from friends and people I had known most of my life… and thought to be sane, decent people.
One of those phone calls was from a church administrative bigwig that proceeded to berate me about the computers we had put in the church even though he facilitated it. What was wrong… did they not work? Was there no internet access?
Oh, hell no, it was much worse than that, there was PORN on the computers!!! That’s right, Satan himself was apparently in the building because of our free technology.
Amazingly the earth did not split open nor was I struck by lightning. There was no voice of God telling me what I had done wrong… only an extremely irate farmer on the other side of the line that did not have time for this and what it was doing to the church. Get the computers and all our technology out of the building now.
So, we did it. Took it all out while the church volunteers looked on helplessly as the technology left the building. It was a sad time in a small town. To make matters worse, the school Super had called to say that the preacher’s laptop had porn on it too. We had two preachers (from different churches) on our board that demanded something be done.
Trouble was, they did it with information only the Community Network was privy to.
I couldn’t believe this was happening. I made it plain after that, in a respectful manner, if any board member could not abide by the terms and by-laws, they needed to step down. Trouble was, by this time the Community Network had been mortally wounded by “the incident”
At the time I was too old to be disillusioned… just angry and not quite as naïve as I was when I signed on.
At the end of it all, we managed to have enough computers AND free internet for at least one year to go down into our Junior High School grades before time ran out. Sure, it was a logistics nightmare and computer repair hell as time wore on, but it was worth it. We also renovated an old city building and put in 20 computer stations and internet access for anyone that wanted to bring their laptop down to the building and plug in.
Until we could no longer support it. Donations became non-existent and no one wanted to get involved after the church fiasco. I was mildly harassed for running the preacher out of town too.
Ahh… small-town life, you got to love it.
The kid’s computers stayed in their homes, others were rounded up and left in the city building we renovated, and eventually, all were disposed of one way or another. Our beloved non-profit Corp was dissolved, and we all went our separate ways.
All the while wondering how in the hell it could be so hard to give away a half-million dollars.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.