Using technology for philanthropic pursuits Featured

5:42am EDT September 30, 2005
Often, technology-based companies have a hard time using internal resources to pursue their philanthropic goals. They become pigeonholed into financial donation or volunteering time in unskilled pursuits.

However, one local Internet service provider has cultivated a relationship that is right up its technological alley. Community Voice Mail has found a partner that will ultimately benefit our area's vulnerable population.

Cleveland Community Voice Mail (cvm.org) is a support organization designed to keep people connected to the real world when they are in crisis or transition by providing them with a free voicemail box. The service may be used by the long-term unemployed, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, runaway youth, kids who age out of the foster-care system, migrant or day workers and others in need.

According to CVM, voicemail can be a huge benefit for individuals who can't afford quality phone service, or need a way for family or prospective employers to reach them. These mailboxes are accessible from anywhere and provide a traditional voicemail box with a personalized greeting.

Government data cited by the CVM calculates that there are more than 5 million U.S. households without telephone services -- not including the homeless, who may number 3 million people annually.

How does technology play into the support of CVM? CVM has been able to adapt some of the latest Voice over IP (VOIP) technology to create a scaleable service that will allow CVM to help clients in smaller metro areas and rural communities.

CVM recently transitioned its service from an antiquated voicemail system originally designed for the hotel industry to a state-of-the-art Unity Server platform created for the VOIP industry. With some philanthropic support from a local technology provider, CVM brought the new system live in a short period of time. Services that have assisted in the transition and growth of the CVM system include increased telephone capacity on fiber facilities, Internet connectivity for the system and support with number portability.

Through this technology provider/nonprofit partnership, Community Voice Mail served more than 44,000 individuals in 37 cities nationwide last year. Michael Gibbs, the local Community Voice Mail coordinator, says, "This partnership will allow us to continue to provide voicemail service to more than 55 social service agencies in Ohio. Our hope is to be able to grow this program to serve new communities and agencies throughout Ohio." Partnering brings together organizations that are starting a new trend of supporting social services through the use of technology. Included in this relationship is a historic name in communications, Doylestown Telephone Company (DTC), a rural Ohio exchange carrier that has been serving the community since 1899.

DTC President Tom Brockman and General Manager John Clarke saw a value in supporting this community-based effort and certainly had the resources to help. Clarke commented, "It was so easy to give them support. We are providing them [CVM] a home in our existing data center and adding a little expertise."

Brockman adds, "We regularly support efforts like American Cancer Society and other local initiatives, but our staff gets really excited about being involved with a project that uses our technology skills."

Ohio.net Internet Providers remains ahead of the technology curve by pioneering services for the local business markets. With a distinct advantage of being owned by a local telephone company, VOIP is the next natural offering for this ten-year-old ISP with a 106-year history of telephony. Reach Ohio.net at www.ohio.net or by contacting Alex Desberg, adesberg@ohio.net.