Friends and geeks,
Welcome to 2010! It has taken FreeGeek/Chicago? four years to start truly delivering on our mission, and we have many challenges in the years to come. Still, 2009 was FreeGeek's most promising yet. We'd like to share the story of our past year, talk a little about our future, and invite you to engage with our immediate and long-term needs.
We made progress on many fronts in 2009, and we end the year thankful for several recent successes.
We welcomed Jeremy Pastin and Dave Newcum to the staff in 2009. Their personal and technical skills have been an invaluable addition to our community, and their commitment and creativity have been an important factor in FreeGeek's growth. Since last fall, we've also been holding community council meetings -- a group of so-called "super-volunteers" that have become deeply involved in FreeGeek's governance and operations. In 2009, super-volunteers took on new responsibilities such as equipment testing and orientation, and met to discuss and debate organizational improvements. FreeGeek/Chicago? owes its recent success to the collective efforts of staff and super-volunteers.
Thanks to the efforts of Howard Fosdick, we obtained our 501(c)3 status. We expanded sales and increased revenue to the point that we have a small margin beyond our monthly bills. Because of everyone's contributions, FreeGeek's hours expanded to include Fridays in addition to regular Sunday hours. We saw significant improvements to our physical space including incremental reorganization efforts, better security, the renovation of the basement bathroom, and the installation of a heating system.
Volunteer participation doubled and continues to grow: 100 people volunteered as part of the earn-a-box program in 2008; more than 200 volunteered in 2009. In response to the increased demands, many FreeGeek processes were improved and documented over the past year. We are working hard to make FreeGeek more efficient and more welcoming.
Our immediate challenges are practical: We need money to cover our recycling and operational expenses, and we need help transporting material to be recycled. We need to recycle to make room for new donations, but recycling isn't free: it takes time, energy, and money. While our revenue stream has dramatically increased, we still don't bring in enough money to recycle all of the material we accumulate. To help us, you can work with us on recycling days, and you can make a monetary donation to FreeGeek at (URL) to help us offset our costs.
We also need PCs, laptops, and other equipment donations. We never have enough PCs to work on, and it is a miracle that we've had enough donations over the past year to sustain our expanded volunteer program. We need help making connections with potential equipment donors. If you have laptops or PCs, please bring them. And, if you or someone you know can organize a recycling drive through your work, church, school, or other social network, we'd love to talk with you!
In the long term, FreeGeek/Chicago? is looking at working on improving our educational programming, recycling more regularly, expanding our hours and programs, cleaning and organizing our space, potentially looking for a new space, pursuing seed funding, growing our staff and community council, improving documentation, increasing revenues, enlarging our outreach, and establishing ourselves as local authorities on electronics recycling issues and as practical free software advocates. Building on our work in the past year, we have the potential to grow into a smart, sustainable, accountable, and deeply-rooted institution. And we are in the enviable position of being able to determine, as a community, where we go next.
Before we send our computers out into the world, we install a Linux distribution called Ubuntu. "Ubuntu" means "humanity," or, "I am who I am because of who we all are." FreeGreek/Chicago? has become a strong example of the principle of Ubuntu. 2009 has shown that everyone at FreeGeek makes our organization better when we all talk and listen to each other. The vigorous debate and laughter that fills the air on Fridays and Sundays is a sign that we've come a long way towards creating a truly functional community.
Waste-stream harm-reduction for an electronics-addicted society is not flashy work. Struggling to refurbish and recycle old computers in various states of disrepair while affirming open source principles and using free software can be a mundane and frustrating job. But it is useful and satisfying work. It creates friendships through collaborative problem-solving. There is a scrappy elegance in its results. It is work that builds trust and respect among a genuinely diverse group of people. And it is work that practically anyone can engage in.
Thanks for a great year! Please help us this year however you can -- with your computer donations, with your time, with your expertise, and with your money.
(SHOULD WE DO A SHOUTOUT SECTION?)
Special thanks in 2009 to Scott Lewis, Janet Mitts, Sam Dent, Howard Fosdick, Malcolm Liggins, Axel Rendon, Ben Buckley, Joyce Banks, Aaron Howze, C.J. Godley, Tabitha Kleinert, Victor Yha, Rich Moore, ... (who else am I forgetting who isn't staff?)