Community Foundation of St. Joseph County

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"Connected Communities" Initiative Makes Big Impact

Tech Help, Savings for Local Charities—and Free Wireless for Downtown SB

The Community Foundation is helping fund an initiative that makes technology more affordable for local charites.

Several years ago, the Community Foundation established the Connected Communities initiative in partnership with Mike Bieganski, a retired senior VP of information technology for Bosch, and South Bend-based nonprofit fellowship program enFocus. The initial goal of Connected Communities was to hook up a handful of local nonprofits to the Metronet, the super-fast fiber optic network that loops around South Bend and Mishawaka.

It soon became clear, though, that these charities needed more than just Metronet access. Many had decades-old equipment; others had no dedicated IT staff and struggled to meet basic computing needs.

In response, Biegnaski and enFocus developed nCloud, a subsidiary unit of enFocus that manages shared IT services for area charities. With support from the Community Foundation and other funding partners—including the James and Marjorie Wilson Family, the Judd Leighton Foundation, enFocus, and the City of South Bend—nCloud provides more than 20 local charities with a range of IT services, including high-speed internet, joint purchasing of technology, IP telephony, and free consulting on tech issues. It’s been a boon for local charities, which often struggle with technology planning, implementation, and costs.

St. Margaret’s House, a day shelter for women and children, is an example. Before becoming involved with nCloud, says Kathy Schneider, executive director of Saint Margaret’s House, the organization’s phone system was so outdated that she couldn’t find anyone who knew how to fix it. Now, St. Margaret’s House has access to high-speed internet and a new phone system. Staff can work more efficiently, and the women served by Saint Margaret’s House benefit, too.

“Our guests can access job and school sites through the dedicated guest phone and computer bank,” Schneider says.

It’s been good for larger charities, too. Josh Gregory, director of IT for Center for Hospice Care, says that by connecting to the Metronet through nCloud, Hospice has been able to create better synergy among its six campuses.

“Before, our separate offices felt like silos,” Gregory says. “This has really woven our organization together.”

It’s only possible, he adds, because charities can afford nCloud’s rates. Costs for Metronet access through nCloud are less than a tenth of what a commercial provider would charge.

More than 20 other charities work with nCloud, including Goodwill, REAL Services, Center for the Homeless, LOGAN, and Family & Children’s Center. All area 501(c)3 organizations are eligible for nCloud’s services. Requests are filled in the order received, according to capacity.

The Connected Communities initiative has made a huge impact, says Rose Meissner, president of the Community Foundation. She credits Bieganski.

“While the money the Community Foundation and the others partners chipped in was necessary to make this happen, Mike Bieganski was absolutely essential to this project,” says Meissner. “Mike is a brilliant man. Since he retired from Bosch, he’s been using his amazing IT skills in all sorts of wonderful ways.”

While local charities are the primary beneficiaries of the initiative, all of downtown South Bend stands to gain from the initiative’s next step: Free outdoor wireless internet, which will be up and running by the end of 2015.

Future plans include extending the wireless footprint to include areas such as school zones, hoping to reduce the “digital divide” among those with internet access and those without.