Community calendar catches on in Fairmont

I always enjoy highlighting BBC (Blandin Broadband Communities) projects. It’s fun to hear how folks are using broadband. Some porjects are entirely unique and some really catch fire. Knowing that, I was intersted in hear that Fairmount was really happy with their online community calendar.

Community Calendars are hard. They require constant updating. In theory, it’s great to get folks to add in their own events. In practice that great idea doesn’t always catch on. Fairmont’s calendar has caught on.

I think they had two secret ingredients: they worked hard to get people engaged and invested AND they found a calendar system that works for them.

I asked Margaret Dillard at the Chamber how they got peoeple to use and update the calendar. She said…

It is gaining the reputation of being a one-stop online presence for events here. Previously, the chamber was responsible for attempting to keep track of events, happenings and entertainment throughout Martin County, so our strength comes from working with multiple government entities and other organizations. In addition, we utilized billboards, newspaper, radio, CER catalog, chamber and city social media and publications and email campaigns.

Next I asked about the calender software. It seems they were able to grow a community calendar from the online school calendar. And better yet – the school calendar comes from a Minnesota company. I contacted Ray Drestke, CEO of the company for more info. I’m going to include most of what he said because – having worked on community calendar projects myself, I know that folks who are looking into this will appreciate the details. (And the rest  of you can save this until you might need it.)

We are based in Winona, MN and are a 24 yr old company that has a suite of 16 web software programs and 5 mobile apps that serves the K-12 and College market.  We currently serve over 5,000 school organizations in 44 states. (


The calendar behind the Fairmont project is the Community Calendar version of our popular Activity Scheduler.  Activity Scheduler is a school calendar and Athletics Management System used by over 5,000 schools for the last 16 years.


With the Community Calendar, we set out to solve 3 problems that every community has:


1) Some say “there’s nothing to do around here.”


2) Community and Event Planners say. “Argh, if i had known these other 2 events were happening that weekend, I would have scheduled ours for a different weekend.”


3) Some say, “I would love to have gone to this event if i had only known about it beforehand.”


Why solving this has traditionally been hard:

1) Most of the organizations in any town have web sites that have calendar events on them.  But it forces the community to go to so many sites to get a real picture of what’s happening.

2) Nobody has time to enter their events on multiple sites

3) Even if you could afford to hire someone to aggregate all the calendar data in a community and repost it to one calendar, things still slip through the cracks. Date/time/location changes are mostly missed, etc.

4) Nobody wants to use a shared calendar as their organization’s calendar.  They want a calendar that is 100% theirs.


Solution: So, with the rSchoolToday Community Calendar, the goal is no one has to rekey anything!  Every organization in your community that wants to participate (city/county government, chamber, CVB, churches, youth groups, Park/Rec, schools, service organizations, etc) can have their own low-cost rSchool calendar, and that becomes their Web site calendar. It is simple to use, powerful, 100% editable, includes a free mobile app, and can be branded to match each organization.


When data is entered into each organization’s calendar to show on their web site, those events automatically also write to the community calendar.   And, the schools are likely already using our calendar so their data will already be in the Community Calendar.


But…”I have spent so much creating a special look to the calendar events on our CVB page – I don’t want to lose that.”  No worries.  rSchool can feed calendar data into any other calendar that can accept a data feed. So, by using the rSchool calendar to enter the data, you have the best of both worlds.


Advertising?  You can choose for NO ads on the calendars. Or, you can use our Local Ad model and control the ads on your calendar.  you can feature all local businesses and charge whatever you want each month or year. This can make the Community Calendar a powerful revenue-generator for the community as well.


Buying Tickets online for events?  If you have a ticket program, you can link any ticket site to that event in the calendar to make things easy.  Don’t have a ticket app? We can provide one.


Social Media?  Your community can promote any calendar event to their social media sites.


Can I be selfish?  “I only care about restaurants, live music, art galleries and soccer.”  No prob. Select the things you care about, generate a personal calendar, and push it to your smart phone or tablet. Now any changes to those activities auto-update your smart device.


But I tend to forget….No worries, sign up for reminders and change notices for the activities you care about and receive email or text messages automatically.

Refurbished computers are best when they are newer

Do you have a computer or two or more in your basement? Did you know that there are people who need computers and places that will refurbish your computers and distribute them to the people in need? (PCs for People!)

I was reminded to give this public service announcement in two ways. First it’s summer and I just gave my kids their to-do lists. Second I just got an update on the PCS for People distribution program in the Resilient Region. They successfully distributed computers to 110 families across 5 counties. But they had an observation on the need in the community for newer computers…

We are still seeing a lack of quality computers come through our donation cycles.  On the average about 20% of the donations we receive can be refurbished. Out of the 450 donations received in 2016 about 90 are computers we can work with.  This is a huge limitation for us and for the families we distribute to.  We firmly believe that poor people do not need poor computers. Cell phones have limited abilities but often are better option for those in poverty.  Our hope is that we have “collected” enough computers from basements and corporate storage rooms that waited for years for strong young bodies to haul them away for free and we can now access quality to share with the families we serve.

As of December Microsoft no longer supports Windows 7 and we spent time with new systems and now install Microsoft Windows 10.  Many of our refurbished computers are now out of date and too old for current updates.  As we grow the project we now must be more specific regarding our donation policy.  Additionally, we have begun to ask for a free will donation to help offset the recycling fee we now need to pay to certified recyclers.

Systematically they may have some plans in the works – but from the outside I think what we potential donors can do – don’t put off to tomorrow the computer donation someone can use today.

It may be worth noting if you are in or around the Resilient Region – they have Windows 7 computers available for sale. These desktops work well and would be a great addition to families – $10 to $20 to eligible low income families or individuals.

Carlton County has foresight for a more connected future

Pleased to share a letter to the editor from Blandin President and CEO Kathy Annette in the Pine Journal...

Recently a team from Blandin Foundation was in Moose Lake to celebrate the wrap-up of our partnership with Carlton County through the Blandin Broadband Communities program. What we saw was impressive: a diverse group of dedicated broadband champions working together to make their communities better.

Over the past 18 months, Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee assessed community technology strengths and gaps, brainstormed ideas, and identified ambitious goals: increase free internet sites in rural areas, promote telehealth and telework, market their communities to retain/attract technology opportunities, and increase access to devices and the use of technology in Carlton County, particularly by students.

Much of the efforts of Carlton County’s Broadband Steering Committee have been focused on increasing access to the internet for all county residents. The committee worked with PCs for People to distribute refurbished laptops to community members in need. They increased the number of Chromebooks available for use by students in the schools and have implemented wi-fi on activity busses. The Broadband Steering Committee also supported efforts by libraries in the county to procure hotspot devices for check-out and offer community education classes to teach people how to use devices.

Local leadership matters. Blandin Foundation commends all Carlton County residents who contributed to the work of the county’s Broadband Steering Committee, and in particular Brenda Nyberg and Connie Christenson, for their vision and dedication to a more connected community with opportunity for all.

Kathy Annette

How, why, when, where to create a high tech center in Brainerd (or any town) Minnesota

The Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC) has been kind enough to share their High Tech Center Research Project. Here’s the description from the document…brainerd-tech-report

With grants from the Blandin Foundation and Initiative Foundation, BLAEDC researched tech centers and interviewed members of the tech community to learn about their wants and needs. That data was compiled to create models and apply the concept to existing properties in the city of Brainerd. Those models can also be applied to other communities as well.

Success for this research project is based on the completion of three “documents”:

  1. A compilation of all the data collected into a draft business plan/outline. For example, market opportunities/potential, budget and source/use of funds, facilities, equipment and infrastructure needs, etc.
  1. A concept proposal and “next steps” outline for an actual location in the Brainerd Lakes Area, or a report that finds that such a project isn’t viable in this area.
  1. A “how-to” guide for other communities to conduct their own study. The ultimate goal of this project is to further understand how to promote economic growth and new jobs for the area by expanding the technology business sector.

If your community is 2015-11-09-tech-center-project-document-final thinking about a tech center, this report will help.

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: Nobles County where digital inclusion builds bridges to New Americans

This afternoon we met with the folks in Nobles County to hear about their Blandin Broadband Community programs. They are focused on a range of projects but I think they have done an especially good job with successful programming for New Americans. Technology has been a connection back to their home countries and technology has also been an excuse to connect with their new neighbors and help build ESL skills.

The community noted that Blandin was instrumental in helping so much of this happen. They are becoming a connected community. Focusing on broadband gave them a place to start – soon after they got going with NEON (Nobles Economic Opportunities Network. Having a place to start really helped get them off the blocks and led to brainstorming and new ideas.

I am happy to share video from the presentations…

And the PPT

And my notes… Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: Redwood County better training, hotspots, GIS and telehealth

Today they visited with the folks in Redwood County to hear about their Blandin Broadband Community projects. Redwood County is still struggling with broadband issues. They have a feasibility study and have recently completed a market survey so they are working on better broadband. In fact they have two providers that are applying for Minnesota State funds to deploy broadband. But even without the best broadband they have implemented a number of success programs – training for business, training for new computer users, computers distributed to low income households through PCs for People set up with low cost broadband through local providers and more. (I think it’s interesting to hear about the details of MVTV’s reduced rates policy in the PCs for People video below.

A great observation was the idea that you need to give people a good experience. People won’t use broadband if the experience is negative. That’s why the training, equipment and access to quality programs/applications is so important. But that’s quickly followed by the need for broadband to maintain the quality.

I think the PPT they have shared probably gets to the details even better than my notes – but I will also be sharing my notes below. (But I ask for kindness with proofing; we’re on the way to the next stop now and I wanted to get the notes up asap.)

Continue reading

Blandin Broadband Community Tour: RS Fiber build innovation through schools, training and center

Today we met with folks in Renville and Sibley Counties to talk about the broadband projects that were funded through the Blandin Broadband Community programs. We met in the home of the new innovation center – aka future home of the drone obstacle course.

I took pretty good news that I’ll post below and a few videos. The highest level lesson we learned was that being part of the BBC programs served the community well because it gave community leaders (schools, economic development, business, towns and more) a reason to meet on a regular basis. The challenge is to create a new reason to continue meeting as they learned that no one can live successfully in isolation anymore!

Economic Development Continue reading