It's great to be back.
We were closed Monday through Friday last week because of Sandy. We had no power, water, Internet, phones, heat. What was interesting though is the staff considered Internet a necessity…and of course that drives our phones. So we couldn't even hook up a generator for power. Xfinity was down.
So we went hunting again. Because this marks 14 days GeoVisions has been closed for weather in the last 13 months. Some of us moved our computers into the Guilford and North Branford libraries where they had power and Internet. Others sat in McDonalds and Starbucks and gained some weight in the process. Our town green, right across from our office, looked like a battle zone. Trees uprooted, limbs everywhere.
Guilford is odd with hurricanes. We are a shoreline community with a working harbor. So we get flooding from the sea. We are also an agricultural community, and so we have a lot of trees that go flying across roads during high wind. And the occasional flying cow.
I have to tell you, though, that our spirit is undaunted. After two hurricanes in one year, we feel knocked down, but we're back up and preparing for the next one that decides to turn toward us. Maybe 10 or 11 months from now. Our website never went down, since it is hosted on servers in Massachusetts and Arizona. Our email never went down, since Google hosts that. Our emergency phone service never went down since we forwarded all calls there in advance of the storm and that facility is more bunker than office.
The notes and emails sent to us last week from our offices and partners abroad, and our volunteers and teachers were more than we could have expected. Your patience as we dealt with this problem and your concerns and prayers were very much appreciated.
Through it all, we still have families desperate for au pairs. We have schools desperate for teachers. We have projects desperate for volunteers. The upside of being an Internet business is that the site is still live even when your office is getting pounded.
Thank you again for your patience. We are getting back to cleaning up the office, setting up our new telephone system, figuring out even more ways to be of better service to you all. If there is anything we can help you with, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call us on 203-453-5838. Both work just fine!
More important than what happened to us is what is happening to our friends to the south. Places that are now gone from us forever. People suffering today, families and children freezing cold from the low temperatures this week. Everyday we think about them.
In the early morning hours on Sunday, August 28, Hurricane Irene came ashore in Guilford, CT. Guilford is home to GeoVisions' Global Work and Service Program office. It is also home to most of our staff.
Old timers to this Blog probably remember photos I have taken of Guilford. I'm so proud of this small coastal town with it's Town Green built in 1639 and our office, built in 1750. We look over this Green from our office and do you know what? I never, ever take that view for granted.
When we have visitors from out of town we always take them to the Guilford Harbor. It's an actual working harbor with restaurants, pleasure boats, lobster boats, the Guilford Lobster Pound and other spots that just make walking down there very peaceful.
On Sunday morning, a lot of that changed. And to keep things in perspective, I'm not whining. We had a Category 1 hurricane. I cannot even imagine a Category 2, never mind a 5. I'm thankful, and all of us are taking this in stride.
How did Irene impact our staff? Well, for starters, we have no electricity, no cable TV, no Internet, cell phone service is spotty, our yards are a mess, some of us lost beautiful trees, hundreds of dollars in food is spoiling, we can't flush toilets without pouring water in the back because in Guilford, 100% of the homes are on water wells and septic systems. So basically, we're camping! And many of us don't have running water and had to buy bottled water. Neighbors were buying hundreds upon hundreds of pounds of ice to keep food spoilage to a minimum.
How did this impact GeoVisions? No electricity. No Internet to stay in touch with volunteers and no email to communicate with people hoping to go on our programs. No phones, so when people call us they assume we're closed…or worse. Can you imagine being in business and locking up your doors for 5 days (and counting)? That's what we have had to do because of a natural disaster. And disasters don't care.
So what have we done? How area we providing 24/7 service to our volunteers and teachers abroad right now? Because that is key.
We quickly bought a generator and 25 gallons of gas before the stations ran out…which they did on Monday. This generator would end up powering 3 computers at a time, and a refrigerator with fresh water for 5 days. Our backup Verizon 3G/4G hot spot powered computers on a damaged cellular network so we could get plain text emails out, receive emails and update our volunteers and teachers abroad.
Next, we were able to get Comcast to forward the main phone line to our emergency telephone service. That service has 2 power generators and 7 days of diesel fuel each. By taking these 2 quick steps, we were able to protect our volunteers and teachers 24/7, and stand ready for any emergency abroad.
Our staff has been nothing short of amazing. They drove to New Haven for WiFi, and to family homes outside of Guilford with power and Internet. Some drove around to McDonalds, Starbucks and Subway to stay in touch with our participants and even those who plan to participate this month and need pre-departure materials. We have found that dedication to the service of others is contagious, and our staff just got in cars and found WiFi to stay in touch with everyone who touches them via GeoVisions.
As of this writing, we now have electricity in our office. We still have no phones and we have no Internet. We will no longer have to power computers with generators. But we will continue to use the Verizon hot spot. Verizon was very helpful and doubled our usage because of what has happened. And our staff will continue to call you via their personal cell phones.
Emergency? There has been another 7 days of fuel added and we can go another week providing emergency phone service 24/7. All staff on those lines are reporting to work as usual.
Using a metaphor, our doors remain shut and the windows covered. But there is life inside, thanks to technology, fuel and dedicated staff.
Disasters don't care. Our volunteers who have worked in disaster areas know that first-hand. Disasters kill indiscriminantly and destroy at will. We have experienced the fact that disasters don't care. People do care, however. We have had so many people encourage us through these difficult days, and our staff certainly care. And that is what makes the difference. It's the people we surround ourselves with…staff, volunteers and teachers alike that make the difference in letting the disaster get the best of us, of letting the disaster bring out the best in us.
How will you know us on the Internet? Everything is working and we are providing updates to you via our Home Page.
How will you know us if you see us? We're the ones with a roll of toilet paper in our hands madly searching for a toilet that flushes!
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend, here in the U.S.
It is just stunning here in Guilford, CT today. It's hard to be inside working. All of us here know we're coming to the long winter slog and so when we are afforded days like today…bright sun, 70 degrees and bright fall leaves…we want to be outside as much as possible.
Coming back from lunch I walked on the town Green. Guilford is the 7th oldest town in Connecticut, founded in 1639. We have two harbors and two tidal rivers. The granite quarries here supplied stone for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, just a few miles from here. My daughter, Molly, attends Abraham Baldwin Middle School. Baldwin is a signer of the U.S. Constitution.
Our soldiers have fallen from Antietam, Port Royal, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg defending the Union all the way to the recent conflict in Iraq. We have a history of volunteering that started back in the 1600s.
It is beautiful here and I just thought I'd put up a post about where we call home, where your applications end up and where the staff of GeoVisions works. And when you call…you'll have an idea of where we are.
Thank you for your trust in GeoVisions. We love living and working in Guilford and being involved in such a rich history. We take it seriously and we think it shows when you talk to us. We have a lot to live up to…and we try our best everyday.
Two years ago this weekend I was packing for a 12-day trip throughout Asia. I had just gone to the Guilford Fair Parade with my children. So here we were again, sitting along the street with friends to watch a parade of history that identifies Guilford to this very day. Guilford is an agricultural community and a seaport fishing town full of rich history going back to it's roots in 1639.
And it is also back to school...some of the floats in the parade are from the different schools in the area, celebrating Guilford's strong commitment to education. The nights are considerably cooler, needing a cotton jumper to keep the evening chill away. And we are watching the Red Sox baseball team. We are one game of clinching a playoff spot. Around here October is actually Soxtober.
Our staff has returned from all of their summer assignments...most looking for more! Staff in our Paris office ventured to South America and found time to hike all around Machu Picchu. Our staff in Bangkok spent time in Malaysia and then ventured to Cape Town to view new projects we will announce soon there and in Soweto.
Our staff in Boston headed for Madrid, Santander (northern Spain) and then Istanbul. The result of the trip to Istanbul is an amazing Language Partner program where we will even provide round trip airfare for anyone headed to Istanbul to teach conversational English for 1, 2 or 3 months.
For me, I took to the back streets of Paris and then London. I met with our partners from France and Germany in the Jardin du Luxembourg for a light meal and discussions on how we can make the conversational English programs in both countries even stronger. The result? The price for our programs in France and Spain went from $1795 to $1295.
It was a great summer season of travel with remarkable results that benefits our incredibly giving volunteers. If we can provide airfare on some programs, if we can lower fees by $500 then staff travel is for the right reasons. Those decisions mean we can provide more help abroad to those families and communities most in need of GeoVisions' services.
Kevin, Jim, Ray, Rebecca and I have just completed five days in New York City where we had 72 meetings with global agencies looking for our help to sustain their efforts in their own communities. We are exhausted but be sure to keep checking our website to find even more meaningful projects that will take us to the end of 2008 and help usher in 2009.
I am reminded of a quote I read somewhere recently that goes, "The more proactive you are, the less reactive you'll need to be!" That sums up the volunteers from GeoVisions. Being proactive enough to go abroad and make a difference in lives and make a sustainable difference in communities means our volunteers believe that being proactive solves problems now, provides sustainable tools and resources to people and communities, and leaves far less with which to be reactive. Remember, Lucretius tells us, "Drops of rain make a hole in the stone not by violence, but by oft falling."
The above photo is one of the bands in the Guilford Parade. I couldn't resist adding it. Enjoy.