Chapter Two: Community Networking -
Making a Difference
During 1996, Ken and Nellie Bandelier, retired teachers in Dillon, MT (Pop. 4000), saw the need to help local citizens get on the Internet to learn what it offered them. "Real Benefits for Real People" was their mission. They convened a group of friends to talk about the possibilities. Should we even try to write a grant to get funding? The gentleman from Forest Service office said " Weve nothing to lose, lets do it!" Six months later, a check for $98,000 was in hand, from the NTIA/TIIAP program (http://www.ntia.doc.gov).
Due to the tireless efforts of grassroots champions, Ken and Nellie, among others, Dillonet has grown from a single used PC in a small office, to six PCs in a three room community technology center, ten public access PCs in local public offices, and 12 loaner laptops which anyone can borrow for $3/day, complete with unlimited free local Internet at the tap of a button. In addition, nine outlying smaller communities have Dillonet public access computers which have proved to successfully generate awareness and the demand for more public access computers. Three eastern states can fit into Beaverhead country, which has a total population of 9,000. NOTE: Dillonet was discontinued in 2002 after serving its mission for seven years.
Young kids and old folks come to Dillonet to learn new skills, and pay for their training by volunteering their time to assist others. Hundreds of volunteers have cycled through the Dillonet program, mentoring others in return for the skills they received. Local artists have learned to become web designers and youth have won jobs as webmasters. The local businesses and government officials now better understand how the Internet can be used for sharing information and for marketing, and research. A local success story: Buffalo and cattle hybrids, called Beefalo, are now marketed worldwide at http://beefalobeef.com.
The local Womens Center, Rest Home, Welfare Office, and similar offices all have expanded their computer skills, and services to citizens, through use of the Dillonet provided Internet access and PCs. Dillonet has been recognized as an exemplary model and was a finalist in the Swedish International Bangemann Challenge Community Innovations Competition" and also as a finalist for the "America Online Rural Innovations Competition."
As Dillonet won additional funding for computers and Internet to create community technology centers in surrounding communities, more and more people have begun to get excited about the possibilities for themselves and their communities.
Jackson, MT, (Pop. 48) is one such community. At the hundred year-old Oddfellows Hall, Judy Halazon maintains the local public access system. Outside, crudely spray-painted in bright red is a sign "Email Free!" Judy is willing to sit with, and train, anyone that knocks on the door. Hundreds of people have come to learn from Judy. "People around here dont like change" she relates, "You just cant push people to change. When they see the benefits, however, many begin to understand what the Internet can offer them."
Judy begins to tell her story, "One day a cowboy on horseback stopped by in the middle of a cattle drive to check email, hunters and tourists frequently stop in just to see if the offer is real, and check their email. International visitors are common and express disbelief that such services are offered in one of the most remote regions of Montana. With a grin, Judy points to a message an Australian left which ends with and a disabled lady squatting in an abandoned building helped me check my email."
As we share the laugh, Judy continues to tell how she has encouraged the local hatmaker, and many others, to create webpages for their businesses, the Phillipsburg antique shop now does 90% of their business through the http://ebay.com auction site. Local hunting outfitters, and Bed and Breakfast operators, find their web pages are bringing exciting results. Native Americans are finding web pages an effective means of marketing their artwork, in sharing employment opportunities, and in building confidence and pride.
Locals, many still afraid to touch the keyboard themselves, often ask Judy to find obscure mechanical parts for farm and ranch equipment they are unable to get through the regional parts dealers. Three-day delivery direct from the Swedish factory is a typical outcome of Judys application of her Internet skills, to the continuing amazement of locals. Through Judys gentle example, people are changing their perceptions of what they can do for themselves, their families, businesses, communities and each other.
Judy has some medical problems for which she receives disability payments from the government. "This is my opportunity to give back, in return for the support Ive received," she explains.
Ken and Nellie will understate what theyve started; "All weve really done," as Nellie relates "is three things; provide citizens with the opportunity to learn computer skills, Internet browsing and searching skills, and to help them create their first web pages. Theres so much more that needs to be done."
After leaving my personal visit with Judy, I asked her to send me more stories via email and dropped a contribution into her coffee can, knowing she was saving for a computer upgrade. Heres a sampling of the string of stories she sent
Jackson, Montana; "The One Horse Town With No Horse."
The population of Jackson, Montana, is at 44 people (37 have lived here a year or longer, 19 at least 10 yrs) 39 dogs....(dog population has been as high as 62).
Ideas floating around like the snowflakes bouncing hither and yon off a cattle truck of unhappy steers just outside my doorway.
When the Dillonet computer was put in here the only other computers in town were the old ones at the Jackson School and at Shepherds Garage, none were connected to the Internet until Spring of 97. Now the Jackson Mercantile, Roses Cantina, Big Hole Valley Taxidermy, Bill Stocker Trucking, and 14 local families have computers.
The Buffalo Gal Hat Company owner, Paula Husted, an almost daily user here, found three possible sources for impossible to find antique brim rollers (hat curlers) and a cheaper supplier for certain custom made hat blocks. She also is looking at similar hat company web pages to get ideas on how she wants to do her web page. Paula will purchase a computer when she moves her business into the old church across the street.
A family of 5 who arrived destitute from Arkansas to work on a ranch were not equipped to deal with the fact that they were dairy farm experienced and there are no milk cows in the Big Hole. Through Dillonet computers here, and the Womens Resource Center, they were helped with food, warm clothing, and to find suitable employment elsewhere. ( http://jsd.dli.mt.gov/ and http://www.montananet.com/bulletins.htm )
Many ranch hands have used the access to Montana, and other states, Job Services listings to move on to better jobs or to be closer to families. Some of the more permanent ranch hands in the valley live in bunkhouses and have email accounts here to keep in touch with friends and family, ( www.hotmail.com ,) look up information about their interests; spend an evening on a chat line; get music lyrics to print out for guitars; and price gifts or horse gear.
Making a living in this particular rural area of Montana is harder and harder. Families are smaller and tend less to stick to ranching alone. Businesses have wives and husbands working more than one job. Seasonal workers come and go and those families also have members doing several jobs. A ranch hand works 6 days a week, moonlights washing dishes or bartending, his wife makes crafts to sell during the tourist season, or hays during hay season, kids are working the hay season driving tractors, mowers, rakes, mostly ages 12 to 16.
Two "ranch hands wives employed part time are now learning to use the computer on slow days, accessing the web for Christmas gifts, parenting advice, sewing & quilt making patterns and supplies, or just learning computer.
Wendy Goff, a talented local quilt maker has her own web pages. She recently completed a quilt for a person in California that specifically wanted a quilt made in the Big Hole Valley for her granddaughter. Wendy also teaches Pre-School and works in the daycare center in Wisdom, MT. http://www.bighole.com/quilts/mvq.htm ;
A friend of mine, Rima and her husband and family worked various jobs around Lost Trail Pass, and at the Circle Sula ranches, before starting their own business, living where winters are long, cold and with few tourists. They have put their business on the web to carry them through and are reaching buyers who would never have heard a radio ad about them or driven the 8 miles off the highway to their home and workshop.
They make leather clothing, accessories completely by hand and recently were thrilled to be commissioned to do the costumes for a Mel Gibson movie to be called "The Patriot" ( about Custer I think.) Rima called today; "Getting a computer after seeing first hand similar websites doing business with the world, when previously isolated from the world before computers, has fulfilled a dream for our life we never thought possible" http://www.giftmontana.com/sulabuckskinners.html
A well seasoned old sheepherder/cowboy/railroad tramp came in to see if I would get hold of Social Security for him, saying he was tired of standing at pay phone listening to their answering machines. So I brought up the Social Security system on the web. He says "They keep sending me all these forms saying I fillem out incomplete and saying I have to have an address and live in a house. Im telling em that I live in a sheepherder wagon, my address is XX Bar Ranch, I dont have a phone, no electric bill, I burn wood and kerosene lamps, and dont pay no water or sewer. At least the spring and the outhouse aint sent me no bills, and my only dependants are my 2 dogs." He stops in occasionally to have me check the Almanac for him. ( http://www.almanac.com/ ).
Ranch equipment tends here to be of all brands, styles, and eras, so finding parts is a nightmare sometimes, or finding people to fix oddball things. The Web site; http://www.joefarmer.com/ has it all, if one searches. Other Web sites used by ranches: http://www.ironsearch.com/search.asp http://www.farm-online.com
Im showing people reluctant to try the computer and Internet how and why this is where more and more people are looking to find things they want to buy; where people can comparison shop without leaving home. I equate it to what one 83 year-old told me; "Well, we used to have the Sears and Robuck catalog and the mailman delivered stuff, then it was drive to the big cities to hit the shopping malls, now it seems everyone is starting to buy it off the internet and UPS delivers it!"
Jackson Mercantile is an old fashioned country store that sells fishing tackle; local as well as Montana made gifts and souvenirs; groceries; beer & wine; misc light hardware; has a one chair Beauty Salon and barbershop; book lending library; video tape rentals; montana maps & books; local taxidermy mounts; as well as the box of "locals charge notebooks." They still just write down what you purchase and send you the bill at the end of the month. If you arent home for a UPS or Federal Express delivery it will be left at "the Merc" for you to pick up.
The owners, Jim and Christine used this Dillonet computer, shortly after it arrived. Jim used it first during long winter days to find hunting and fishing equipment and local information. ( http://www.thefishhook.com/fishing/guide.php3 ) Then Christine uses it to access gift sources and information for her beauty shop as well as the Merc.
( www.mtfinest.com/links ) ( www.nwmontana.com/art.htm )
A local teenager spent 2 afternoons working on a report for a high school class on writing an obituary for George Washington. She used the search engines to find information about his life and said, "Wow! I really thought this was a boring subject and cant believe how interesting George Washington was. Reading about him on the Internet is sure "hot," (meaning terrific or not boring like books and libraries). She has no computer at home and rides the bus an hour daily one way to school so cannot access computers after school in Dillon.
The manager of the Lodge, who happens to be my brother, has no time for computers, and no use for them, (yea sure,) He finally had to put one in Lodge, first for the bookkeeper and then was convinced a Web page was in order to keep up with other Resort businesses in the state. ( www.jacksonhotsprings.com ) Now, he has a second computer by the reservations desk for email inquiries and reservations.
A cowboy called long distance from Michigan where he is visiting family asking that I look up web pages on cattle haulers and email them to his computer at the ranch so he can access them as soon as he returns home. He finds it easiest to click on the URLs I email him. He is getting better all the time about doing things himself though, and spends hours writing the newsletters for the Southern Montana Snowmobile Club to email to their members.
A gal who collects dolls and antiques has been in, off and on, to check her hotmail account for Doll Newsletters and notices about antique shows and auctions. She also emails friends in cities she formerly resided in.
A family that is just moving to town has asked me to help them set up their computer next week; a man, wife, 3 kids and a grandfather. New to this state they will be accessing the Montana Online government pages for Montana plates, income tax, medical and welfare information.
Got another call from the fellow who has his African Animal Mounts displayed at the Lodge. He asked me to make signs to hang under each animal head telling what it is. Hes tired of my telling tourists that the cape water buffalo is a record size black Angus bull taken locally.
Received a call for help from Nancy Stradtner, who has the Dillonet computer at Polaris (one room school) and is very new to computers so I teach her mostly via phone. Two years ago she was one of the "I will NEVER have a computer" people. I see a common thread of that now, and chuckle to myself. I swore I would never have a computer or even learn how to operate one, and now, 2 months shy of 3 years, I am half-assed managing the basics!
Most of the above requests are from the last seven days! I dont know who pays for the phones and Internet access at the other sites, but here I pay the heat, electricity, building maintenance and such, as it is also my home. I have paid personally a total of $1674.14 to keep the computer and Internet running here in Jackson. I am lucky to own my own home (heated by the 140 degree hot springs water piped from the lodge) here such as it is so pay no rent but there is still up-keep repair and taxes.
My income is from Social Security Disability Insurance - $500 a month and they cover my astronomic medical bills, too. But I feel that monies I have invested in this computer program are nothing compared to the value of having the Dillonet computer, giving me the opportunity to give back to the government monies they have paid out for me.
It has given me confidence, self esteem, and best of all knowledge and information about my medical problems, and to learn from others living with similar disabilities.
The Dillonet project has been terrific, especially Ken and Nellie in making this possible for me. They even bring me a laptop when I am in the hospital, which has been too often. Friends and neighbors who use this computer keep it going for others when I have been ill.
I guess my attitude with people who dont like change or to try computers or the Internet is to say; "Most people who live in the past are missing out on a lot of life in one way or another. Their grandparents regretted not being able to read or go to school because of money, distance, or whatever, and now even a University-educated person who is not "with computers" is outdated and shortchanged.
A $600/month salaried ranch hand has the same access to information via computer, (public access or now at a reasonable cost,) as a $10,000 a month executive. Housewives and mothers are opting to stay at home sell handiwork, crafts via computer, take classes, or home school.
I used to hear moms saying they spent boring days watching soap operas on TV. Now, I am hearing about a new computer program or something they love on the Internet. People who have been living alone and isolated are now chatting with others around the world instead of sitting with a bottle of alcohol. Others are finding new interests in history, hobbies, or collecting.
This is what I am seeing in this valley......Judy
short essay you might like to discuss with your friends regarding how a community network might benefit the public good, followed by a Web Tour of community networking applications.
Heres a recommended
Community Networking, Leveraging the Public Good
Community Networking Applications Web Tour