Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What We've Been Doing the Past Week: Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts for Stony Point & North Rockland

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath. Photo Courtesy of Thomas McGuire
One of the things on people's short list during a hurricane crisis is NOT this: "Golly, I wonder how my website should look tomorrow."

Maslow's hierarchy of needs never included internet access. It includes the most basic of life-sustaining components, such as food, water and shelter.

We realized this even before Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. So, after ensuring that Rockland Web Design customers' websites, hosting, email and customer relationship management services were up 100% of the time during the crisis, we turned our heads to helping those in need.

We soon learned what an unbelievable need it would be.

Phase 1: Volunteering at Stony Point Ambulance Corps

Sunday night some of us headed down to the Stony Point Ambulance Corp...which was designated temporary shelter for people who would inevitably need to leave their homes while the Hurricane was visiting New York.

In a matter of just 24 hours, many families -- over 60 people -- arrived for food, shelter and clothing. Some even needed to be airlifted from their homes as the waters from the Hudson River increasingly overflowed. We remained at the Ambulance Corps for 5 days, helping our new friends to gather donations from the North Rockland Community, hand out food, and assist in organize meetings between the Town Officials and the residents of the area. It was a daunting but humbling task, and because of the experience I feel even more connected to this wonderful community that I've called home for nearly all of my life.

Nancy Pena Kohout entertains the children of families
affected by Hurricane Sandy
So many businesses and volunteers helped in the effort, which is ongoing. As an example, Dana K9 Scent Detection came in with dogs to make sure that all the donations were safe for distribution to the people affected by the storm. John K. Grant donated 50 brand new pillows. B's Nest Deli brought breakfast and lunch every day, Pizzarena brought italian food every night. Nancy Pena Kohout entertained the chlidren with games and music each evening.

There is much more, I've thanked a few below, but I will write another blog post with the list of as many people / businesses that I can remember.

As things started to get a little more manageable, I turned on my trusty laptop, got a hold of one of my buddies that does database administration, and worked with him to build a comprehensive volunteer and donations database, one which will help to get the right help in the right hands. More on that further on in this blog post.


Phase II: Volunteers, Donations and Benefits

The initial safety efforts are winding down, but the cause to help the families that have been permanently displaced from their homes is just beginning. In addition to the temporary shelter that has been kindly provided by the Stony Point Center, we have begun to participate in the organization of several benefits that will raise money for the families. These include donations, gift cards, benefits and fundraisers that will spring up over the coming weeks.

The first step was to set up a central location where all donation and volunteer efforts could be garnered. As we have a close relationship with the members of the North Rockland Chamber of Commerce, we figured this was a logical place to start. 

Please share this website with your colleagues: www.helpnorthrockland.org : Sponsored by the North Rockland Business Alliance (Chamber of Commerce), this is a collaboration with the Town of Stony Point to raise donations and volunteers for direct aid to the families, as well as hold several fundraisers and events that will help ease the distress caused by Hurricane Sandy:
Donate to www.helpnorthrockland.org
  • Direct Relief Campaign: Raise $10,000 in direct aid to the families displaced by the Hurricane
  • Volunteer Database: Collect volunteer names and information, route volunteers to suitable tasks that need to be performed
  • Donation Database: Collect data on types of donations that have been given to the town, cross-reference with those who need certain types of supplies (i.e. diapers for children, clothing for adults of various sizes, gift cards for those needing specific groceries)
  • Benefits: We have several benefits that are forming:
    Benefit Friday 11/9! Click for details
    • Lynch's Restaurant: An elegant evening at Stony Point's newest restaurant, which will feature fine cuisine, live music and more. 
    • Hi Tor Bowling Benefit: Bowl all night at this family-friendly event. Percentage of revenue will be donated to the benefit. 
    • 2 more in the works...we can't say where yet though. ;-)
  • Donation Canisters: We are placing donation canisters all over North Rockland, in support of our effort to raise $10,000 initially. Finally, we have begun talking about helping with a Thanksgiving Dinner which will be specifically for the families affected by the Hurricane. This is also in the nebulous stage of planning, but has a lot of energy behind it. So we are hopeful!
For real-time updates, you can visit: 
  • North Rockland Community on Facebook: Run by Diego Aviles and Ellen Donovan, this is the place to get up to date info on Hurricane relief efforts, gas availability, benefit and volunteerism info, and more.
  • Rockland Chamber on Twitter: Yes, I know you probably don't use Twitter. Just keep it in mind for the near future, ok? ;-)

I'd like to thank the Academy...

I should emphasize that this is definitely, definitely not something that we are involved in alone - we are just helping out. As I like to say, we're simply happy to be at the table with so many good people. I'd like to thank several of them here, and please forgive me if I forget a few names:

Stony Point Volunteer Ambulance Corps (Mark Engelman and Chelle Cordero)

You tweaked my perspective on life a little more. Thank you for opening up the Corps to so many wonderful people. You provided leadership for people that you didn't even know! Your team over there is amazing, and I hope to be working with you in the near future. (By the way, Chelle is an accomplished author. Please check out her website http://chellecordero.com/

Supervisor Geoff Finn:

Supervisor Geoff Finn, Town Board Member Luanne Konopko address
some of Stony Point community that were affected by Hurricane Sandy
Working the channels between the displaced families, government agencies such as FEMA, and volunteers from all over North Rockland. It was certainly a difficult line to walk, since there are so many requests and positions to fulfill in a short period of time. But he was able to do so with both a heightened energy and grace that impressed me. I'm still not sure how you did it all, but you have my kudos for your efforts without a doubt.

Also a very warm thank you to Executive Assistant Bernadette Kilduff for communicating our nutty ideas to Mr. Finn when he had a moment to breathe.

Town Board Member Luanne Konopko:

Luanne works tirelessly even when there isn't a crisis. In my opinion, she is a non-stop humanitarian who cares about her town, and backs it up with action. In addition to her efforts on the Economic Development Committee and several other efforts to revitalize Stony Point, she was on the front lines every day during the height of the crisis, and kept an open ear to any needs that had to be met. She's still out there working, so if you see her, thank her. If you don't, please take a moment to read this, it's a direct result of her efforts.

(By the way, Luanne...I have your DVDs and books that you left for the people at the shelter to watch. I think we saw you in The Incredibles - lol)

Diego Aviles and Ellen Donovan:

Diego and Ellen drove the social media channels with unbelievable skill. On the North Rockland Community alone, over 2000 people in the community were kept up to date on the latest developments related to the Hurricane, donation efforts, volunteer efforts, the gas crisis (thankfully a temporary one), and are currently communicating all the various benefits we are collectively attempting to promote. Thank you so much for your help...and for your guidance on how to choose the right courses of action.

The Stony Point Center:

Kindly opening their doors to the displaced families after the hurricane, Rick Ufford-Chase and staff such as Paula Sandusky are doing a phenomenal job in ensuring that the families are comfortable as they begin the process of rebuilding their homes, lives and families. In my opinion, the Stony Point Center was the perfect, peaceful retreat for such an endeavor. Notably, they cleared two buildings that were slated for corporate conferences in order to accomodate the families. Beautiful.

The Families:

I think it's important to thank those who directly dealt with their adversity. Regardless of the circumstances, I feel blessed to have been in the midst of such brave people whose struggle to return their lives to some sort of normal, is just beginning.

Over the past week, I've seen incalculable strength in the eyes of these people who have lost the most. One person that was with us was so grateful for even the most basic of amenities, a hot meal, a place for her family to stay, even a hug. You can see she is a caring soul. And she is just one of many.

Even now I want to cry, because her gratitude was a blessing to all of us; it helped me to remember how lucky we are, and how far we still need to travel for others. (Yup, 'scuse me while I get a tissue)

Lionel Mathis and Robert Manfredi

Every once in a while we meet up with people that simply have the same heart and mindset as ourselves. Lionel and Rob were two people who fit that description throughout the Hurricane Crisis. The three of us worked unbelievably well together,  and jumped head-first into any tasks that needed to be performed. As a cohesive unit, we performed tasks as basic as cleaning the floors and distributing food, to organizing donations from the community and now spearheading the benefits that are popping up all over North Rockland!

We met over the weekend to watch the football games, and I have a slight suspicion that we will be working together in the coming months, and perhaps on other endeavors after this work is done. =)

The North Rockland Facebook Community:

If I mentioned everyone that I got to know throughout this crisis, I'd be here until the next election! But you all know who you are, and I look forward to working with you more over the coming months.

Keith Doran from Total Technology:

Thank you for assisting me with the creation of the volunteer & donation database. It is begin put to good use. You got my vote for DB Administrator for any organization, any day of the week.


There is a very dear friend of mine in particular that I know wishes to remain anonymous. If I convince her to let me write her name here, I'll update this post. But she was there from the very beginning, to the very end of our relief efforts. To her I want to say thank you so much for participating, and showing how much you care about others.

Most Importantly:

Finally, and most importantly I'd like to thank God for being there for all of us through this crisis. We can't do anything without God's help.

Back to work! =)

Friday, June 15, 2012

How to Work at the Beach

Ok, the picture in this post isn't exactly the beach. It's the Hudson River, which is approximately 5 minutes from my house. Yeah I do feel blessed having access to this, especially on the weekends. During the week I'm typically in my office dreaming about being there...

But today I woke up, saw the beautiful weather, and got inspired to go down to the Hudson with my big bag of technology - to see if I could pull off setting up shop there for the day. It worked!

Now, this is not going to work in every line of work. I imagine if you are a surgeon, you might have trouble getting your patient to agree to have a brain transplant while geese are pooping nearby. But if you're lucky enough to have chosen a field where technology helps to make you mobile, then read on.

Truthfully, I needed a lot less than I thought I did. It reminded me of the time I went on a Boy Scout camping trip, loaded up with every possible piece of equipment. I started crying after 5 miles of hiking, and the lighter, faster scouts were kind enough to carry my excess stuff.

So here is what you will need (I think):

1. Laptop - No getting around this one. Even though you might have a cool iPad or tablet, there is nothing more work efficient than a laptop with all your essential programs loaded up on it.

You should also have a mouse and mousepad, as well as a backup battery or two. As an alternative, some locations have power outlets. Make sure you check with the park reps and ask if you are allowed to plug in.

2. A wifi connection - Another absolute necessity. If you have a 3G or 4G data plan you might be able to tether it to your laptop, but there are other ways as well. Sometimes if you are lucky the location has a wifi signal, or a local coffee shop might be close enough to utilize. Either way, make sure you are using any wifi signal you find WITH permission.

3. Mobile phone - Now, you should plan to not make a lot of phone calls if you are at the beach, especially of you have limited minutes. But certainly you want to ensure that you can call your most important clients. Below I will discuss some alternative ways of communicating during your day at the beach...

4. Other communication tools - here's the important stuff.

There are TONS of great programs that will help you stay in touch while you are working at the beach. Here are just a few of them:

A. Skype: If you have a basic US plan (for just $2.99 a month) you can call anywhere in the US. Use this instead of your cell.

B. Google Voice: Use it for incoming calls, route them to your cell or to your Skype number so you can answer them easily. When you return to your office make sure you switch your routing back to your normal phone number.

C. Email: um, this is Captain Obvious, but it had to be said. Oh also Facebook messaging and Tweeting is good. But try to manage all of it in one place, you don't want to keep going back and forth between your laptop and mobile device answering stuff, it is inefficient.

D. Web based team productivity tools: there are great tools for getting your work done with others in the mix. I personally like Manymoon for project management, Zoho CRM for tracking potential deals, and Dropbox to sync important files with colleagues.

5. Optional devices - I gotta say, my life has changed since I got an iPad. It really makes the web...fun again. Even now I am writing this blog post in Starbucks in New City after my awesome workday. So I do recommend that you get a tablet and see your computing life in a different way. And it will help you get work done while you are mobile.

6. Shade - As I quickly learned, it is important to find a shaded area to do your work, since the sun will quickly make you squint over your screen. So bring an umbrella or find a shady spot. Also this may help if for some reason the weather turns against you.

7. Food and drink - because you don't want the parks department to accidentally rake over your lifeless body after you die from starvation for being too work-driven to even take a 10 minute food break.

...not that this happened to me.

8. A plan - you should plan to NOT do certain work at the beach, simply because it won't be effective to do so unless you are back at the office. So before you get to your new spot, have a simple agenda that outlines only the important things you need to, and can accomplish while there.

9. Notification - You should let all necessary colleagues and clients know you will be working outside of the office. You should also - often and early - let your friends know that you are working at the beach, especially the ones that questioned your decision to build your own business, AND are currently stuck in an office or cubicle. :-)

10. Zen - This last one might be something you find at the beach, or perhaps it will find you. But if you go to the beach, lake or any other spot that will be enjoyable, make sure you get up every once in a while and observe the beauty around you.

Even while you are working, listen to the sounds around you. Look up at the ocean or river sometimes. This is what it's all about. No matter if you're crunching numbers, designing websites, performing brain surgery, managing a workforce or writing a law brief, for those small moments that you take in all that is beautiful about the world...you are free.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Power of Prayer - Business Owner's Edition

Foggy future? Read on...
I don't admit this often, but sometimes money is tight.

I imagine some of you out there reading this can relate. =)

But something magical happened to me a while back, the story of which I'd like to relate to you. In telling you this, I am opening up a part of me that I do not share with the world very often, mainly because it brings up raw feelings of childhood. But since what happened in the scope of this story is so amazing, I had to share it with anyone that might benefit from it, and possibly allow it to enrich their lives.

(As a disclaimer, I was not, nor was my Family ever seriously impoverished, but we had to struggle to make ends meet. There are people that suffer much worse than we did. In comparison, I was the equivalent of a spoiled brat. Just sayin so this story is in the right context.)

So here we go.

A while back I had a serious cash flow problem in my business. I wouldn't necessarily call it a product of the recession, since I try not to pay attention to that. But I had several bills that were increasingly overdue, and needed to be paid or else the whole setup of dominos would fall over in one cataclysmic kersplat. You get my point.

Account receivables were pretty bad. I'm sure you know the feeling when business is flat, but the expenses just keep on coming in like a tidal wave. It is a feeling that is like few others, for me a mix of frustrated, paralyzed and resentful that could easily cause some to just give up and let it all go to poo. Yes, poo.

This one week I had to raise several thousand dollars in a single day. Nothing was really happening that day thus far. It was all quiet, and I was all at the end of my rope. My chest was so tight I thought my heart was going to explode inside of it. I needed to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and I needed it fast. I did have one appointment though...

So a potential client came in to do his scheduled appointment for an initial consultation on his website. It wasn't a signed project, and I didn't expect it to be a big, profitable project. However I did see it as a possible starting point to the rest of the day. If I got through this and it went well, perhaps I could generate some internal momentum to get some things done that would at least save me from total disaster. At this point, partial disaster would be just lovely.

I should also side-note to you that although I am no Saint, I do have a pretty cool Faith in God. Not Bible thumping, but I try to pray each day in a Spirit of being thankful, ask for a blessing before meals, and on occasion read some Scriptures. (GenXers and GenYers: Check out the version of the Bible called "The Message". It is plain English, down to Earth, and sometimes kind of funny. Wikipedia explanation here.) I know it's annoying for most, so I keep it pretty low-key (my friends to tend to bust my chops, but it's all good) I also do believe in miracles, but recognize that those huge "parting of the Red Sea" ones don't really show up too often, like every millenia or something. But perhaps little small, tweaking, unnoticeable "nice, thank you God for the bird that is singing in the window this morning" miracles can and do happen. They are just much more personal.

Anyway, so just before the appointment began, I got down on one knee in my home office, and opened up a quick dialogue with God. I basically said, "God...I need help. I'm on my last thread of Hope. Please - whatever you can do...would be awesome." Note the lack of Hail Mary recitals.

This pic chosen because he
has long hair and he looks cool.
As I closed the prayer, I happened to remember a lyric from a U2 song: "If you wanna kiss the sky, better learn how to to kneel. (On your knees boy)". And at that moment, it gave me some serious comfort, which was counter to the situation at hand. Nothing in the physical realm had actually changed. I was still deeply in short-term debt, and I needed something to happen. But I definitely felt different, as if a weight had been lifted from me. My chest felt a little more relaxed, and I was comfortable enough to do the appointment without feeling the need to close or pressure the client in any way shape or form. (By the way, that high pressure crap doesn't work. Here's why.)

So I went and did the appointment with the potential. Everything actually worked out fairly well with the consultation, and the client was ready to initiate. So I wrote up a contract and set up the terms, which are typically 2/3 at inception and 1/3 at website launch, plus any additional work done that is requested. I proceeded to explain all details of the contract to the person, and he opens his wallet and asks, "Do you mind if I pay you cash up front for the entire thing?"

(Every business owner that accepts checks or credit cards knows that there is a small waiting period when you deposit checks or process cards, ranging from 1-4 days.)

I was flabbergasted. Although this wasn't the entire amount of what I needed to raise, it definitely got things moving in the right direction. Thankfully I was able to maintain external composure and said, "Sure that would be fine. Thank you and I will generate a receipt for you." My original instinct was to cry and hug him, but um, that might not bode well for the client's confidence in getting the project done effectively.

I relate this story because I have a feeling I'm not the only one who has experienced something magical like that happen. If you are a businessperson, or even a person that has to deal with income and expenses a lot, you probably have had a few times where you didn't know how things were going to work out. Somehow, as you look back, was it as bad as you anticipated it would be? Did you hope for some resolution to the problem? Did something cool happen? I hope.

The rest of the day - as well as the week - went quite well. I was able to generate enough money to take care of the most immediate concerns, and the rest I was able to effectively renegotiate for more time, because by that point my belief in one single idea had become more powerful than all the fear I had experienced before. My belief in that single idea helped to "tweak" the physical world, but more importantly it helped to change my outlook on what was going on in the present, and what could possibly happen in the future. It was such a simple idea, but I had to embrace it again for the first time like a little boy that somehow knows without being told what it is. And it is an idea that I hope that will help you in your Earthly travels, especially when you are ready to give up on your last glimmer of hope. It's a very comforting idea...

God is watching. =)