**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 5, No. 9 September/October 2003
Greetings to all community builders! This issue of the Companion Resources Newsletter will feature a slightly different kind of discussion than in many of the past months. I want to talk about a new Internt technology and strategy that I believe is especially suited for small non-profit enterprises. I’ll also include more than the usual advertisements (hopefully, the no pressure, no hype variety). We’ll start there.
My family got me a wonderfully handy gift for Father’s Day. I’ve often been intrigued when seeing a pocket organizer, handheld, or PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) used by someone else, but I had never seriously considered having one for myself. I have since learned that I usually read about the expensive top end models when many fine models are very affordable! I was also amazed at how, through an Internet connection, there are so many features that can be added. I now carry around in my pocket a date book, address book, Bible (multiple versions), notepad, 5-day weather forecast, the day’s newspaper clippings from my local paper and the New York Times, important papers created in Microsoft Word that I want to refer to, and even a novel to read! If there is someone on your Christmas list that might benefit from one of these devices, check out the selection at NextDay PC at http://www.nextdaypc.com/main/cat/subcat.aspx?subid=12&rsmainid=ND0023934.
Ever since coming to understand some of the wonders of the Internet, I have always sought ways to make this technology usable and affordable for families, churches, and small non-profit organizations.
So the latest segment of my journey started about a year ago when I joined a small group of parents to find a way to keep a church-related advocacy and educational ministry going. Although it was rather bold (or foolhardy?) to think that a small group could do what three or four church agencies said they couldn’t do, we decided to try anyway.
I was convinced from the start that the way to share the most resources for the least money was through a networking approach. So we decided that a website and an email discussion group would be prominent in our initial stages. You can see the results for yourselves of the presence and ministry of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) by visiting that website at www.adnetonline.org.
ADNet Online is different from any other website that I have built. It uses a “content management system” (CMS) created by Mennonite.net. When I approached Michael Sherer, IT Director at Goshen (Ind.) College and the visionary behind Mennonite.net, I had very little concept of what a CMS was or how it could benefit ADNet. However, I knew I wanted to create a website that could be easily maintained by a group of volunteers around the country who may not be very technically oriented.
The more Michael talked, the more I became convinced that his vision provided far more than I had even dreamed. So ADNet became an early user of a CMS that has now been dubbed “Caravel.” In the process, I have learned that CMS sites are the wave of the future and even big corporations are revamping their websites to enable content to be uploaded quickly and easily by the ordinary worker without needing to pass through the Information Technology (IT) department.
What makes Caravel different is the vision of community that lies behind it. Caravel CMS is technology for mission that spreads the costs and the benefits of developing that technology across a broad community. Because Caravel uses Open Source technology, it already reaps the benefits of a community of mostly volunteers who have developed pieces of this technology over a number of years. In turn, Mennonite.net offers its own work to the Open Source community on the Internet for others to build on and improve for their own purposes. Thus, instead of fattening the purses of some giant software corporation, ordinary users like you and I have the benefits of some really great technology at a fraction of the cost. We can get our message, our information, and our tools out there on the web at an affordable price.
Not that it’s easy. I’ve seen the challenges first-hand as Michael invited me to become a part of Mennonite.net, handling customer relations as a half-time job as other organizations and churches start building their websites with Caravel. As most of us working to build community know, when you operate with a completely different vision on a financial shoestring, the road can sometimes be rocky. Yet, I believe that good faith and hard work bring results in the end, results that will endure because each step continues to build community. That’s why I’m pleased to aid in that effort as an expression of my ongoing ministry.
Communication is an important part of building community. I’m particularly pleased to be able to offer the tools of communication ranging from Internet access to telephone calling cards to wireless phone plans through my Cognigen affiliation. You will be hard-pressed to find more economical options anywhere. So click on the Cognigen link on the Companion Resources home page or go directly to http://www.ld.net/?cresources.
We live in times of tremendous opportunities and abundant resources. At the same time, the opportunities for carrying out the best and most creative options in community building are often stymied because the resources do not flow in that direction. That is why collaboration, networking, and the creative use of both human and material resources are so important. Let us continue to work together for the things that build people up and create community!
Blessings on the journey!
Paul D. Leichty
“People using Technology building Community”