Moving Words: A High-Tech Story

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Open Door Mission
City & State:
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

Open Door Mission is a faith-based recovery and rehabilitation shelter dedicated to transforming the lives of the addicted, destitute, homeless or disabled.

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Oh! The wonderful, magical impact of words! Gentle words can heal a hurt. Encouraging words can overcome obstacles. The most miraculous of all are the words that teach-opening the mind, generating a thirst for knowledge and helping a person lift themselves out of poverty. It takes many words to run Open Door Mission (ODM). It starts with the bundles of rags on the side of the road that you don’t see. Even he has given up on himself. But somewhere deep inside is the person he used to be, who yells those lifesaving words, “Don’t give up!” The word among his homeless brethren is that if you’re serious about getting off the street, Open Door Mission is the place to be. Now he sits in the ODM intake area. Many more words will be necessary even before he can enter any of the Mission’s programs. Perhaps he’ll need all of them: the Convalescent Care Center-a safe clean haven to recuperate from surgery, illness or injury; DoorWay-a shot at a real chance for successful sobriety after 9 months in our drug/alcohol recovery program, incorporating biofeedback; and our Education Center-offering access to educational and career opportunities. Words will be needed to track all of that, each day, every day, as he progresses through 1 or more programs. There’s also the community service program, where he and his fellow residents learn the rewards of volunteer work. When he graduates after 9 mos in DoorWay, he’ll be able to enter Disciple Partners, a transitional program to ease residents back into self-sufficiency. Graduation–a monthly event at the Mission–evokes a plethora of emotional words! Finally, he’ll want to join the Alumni Association so he can return year after year to mentor those following in his footsteps. Words will scarcely be sufficient to capture the pride, joy and gratitude of a man who has, with a little help, brought himself back to life from the brink of death. There’s also the Mission’s Social Service Department, which, through our collaborations with other agencies, gives all residents access to a wide array of services, all of which must be documented by appointments set and kept, goals made and reached: ID cards VA and SSI benefits, doctors’ appointments and therapy, assisted-living arrangements, job training, prescription schedules, education goals, etc. In order to make sure ODM clients are accessing every service which might increase their chance of success, we must keep track of millions of minute details–words-every day. Setting up a secure, user-friendly database where staff can enter, store, manage, access and analysis these words demands Innovation – who shares a mother with Invention. The under-staffed and under-financed ODM IT Department needs both.

For the last 9 years, the Mission’s IT Department; working with discounted Microsoft products, with little or no funding and pretty much as a 1-person shop; has strived to keep the words flowing where they need to go without running into log jams. In 2001, the IT manager installs a Windows NT Server with 10 workstations for the staff network, opening access to shared files and internet connection, improving the flow of words. The Mission installs Office 2000 software, including Outlook email – a vital business tool for communication. ODM also installs a Microsoft Access-based in-house resident-tracking database in the server and Windows 98 workstations for enhanced processing of all those words in their many forms–reports, brochures, newsletters, grant proposals, client progress reports, program efficiency analysis.

Our IT Department, lone man Vesa Pykala, a Finn who still struggles with English, begins building a separate network using Windows NT Server and 15 workstations for our GED program. The Mission’s uniquely structured GED program is free and open to the public with classes all day and evening, in English and Spanish. Obtaining a GED is a crucial first step out of poverty and the need for such programs is great – especially in Houston, where 1 in 4 adults lack even the most rudimentary tool for obtaining a minimum-wage job - a high school diploma – and 1 in 3 in the Mission’s predominantly Hispanic Historic East End neighborhood. The power of words as stepping stones to a better life!

In 2002, Vesa completes and installs the network-based GED program. ODM begins teaching Microsoft Office Certification Classes to Mission residents and students from the community. While Vesa is installs Office XP on the GED computers, a volunteer installs Windows XP on staff workstations. Words are moving better, faster, more efficiently.

It’s now 2004. ODM renovates and expands its convalescent care center and upgrades its staff server to Windows 2003 for more stable networking. Vesa installs Office 2003 Professional to staff workstations, enhancing stability of office applications, faster processing and flow of words.

In 2006, Vesa installs Upgrade Windows Server 2003 with SQL Server, including Visual Studio 2005 development software. This software is crucial to the Mission. With it, Vesa replaces the old internet-based donation-tracking software with Raiser’s Edge, installing it on the new Windows Server 2003, and upgrades the old MS Access-based resident database with more secure and versatile in-house designed client-tracking software. Using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005, he writes a software program to build an comprehensive Mission-wide database which will capture information from every service of every program and compile it into a easily accessible combination of reports. He also upgrades all staff workstations from Office 2003 to 2007–and adds several new stations. As the need for the Mission’s services increases, so does the staff and the words.

Vesa has now mastered the art of capturing words, spinning them into a skein of information and knitting them into real-time reports on program evaluation, client progress, demographics, numbers served. These words will guide Board members in their vision for the Mission and will show management which programs are working and which need tweaking. These words will track each client’s progress, alerting staff to one who might need extra help. These words will be woven into other words spun by the grant writer to secure funds so that the Mission can continue to transform lives.

We’re now at 2008 and a volunteer installs 2 new Windows 2008 Server-based server computers–one a domain controller with Microsoft Exchange, the other a database server with Microsoft SQL Server 2005. Words are flowing much more freely now!

ODM’s donor database, Raiser’s Edge, and Vesa’s Master Database are now installed more productive as instances to the database server with Microsoft SQL Server. The staff email is now more reliable under MS Exchange instead of a POP3 account. The Mission now has 30 staff workstations and remote access to email from the Exchange Server and remote desktop connection so staff can access their office files from other locations. Words to go!

The most recent innovation is again born of the necessity of limiting internet access to Education Center students. Vesa’s new helper, Richard Whisennand, installs Windows 2008 Server and, using Windows SteadyState, creates internet Kiosks for Learning in the Mission’s Education Center. Now our students have a controlled interface for internet and secure file-sharing access. The students can continue to explore and learn and share the world of words and use them as that vital first step out of poverty.

Perhaps the most amazing and unique part of our story about Open Door Mission, Microsoft and words is that the two men most responsible for the Mission’s ability to keep up with technological changes and updates, who kept the flow of words running powerfully and without interruptions – these men are both products of the Mission’s programs. Remember our man at the beginning of this story? Vesa and Richard are what you get when that voice leads a man to Open Door Mission. We are proud of them and the work they do and we believe they deserve this award, not just for the innovations they have created with Microsoft products, but for the innovations they have made of themselves. Truer words were never written! Come meet them and you’ll agree!

Submission Category
Optimize Mission Delivery