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Technology helping link local nonprofits together

November 2, 2018
By ALEX GALANTE ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The nonprofit world is made up of businesses and organizations that focus on unique ways to serve others. In the current evolving digital age, technology has found its niche in the nonprofit world, too.

While Leonie Wennekers has a heart for food banks and feeding the hungry, that's not in her job description as employee co-ordinator at Opportunity Services. Instead, she leverages her past experience as a refugee placement worker in the Nether-lands to help her in her newer role by placing people with disabilities in meaningful employment.

Wennekers works with agencies such as the Florida Department of Education and Vocational Rehabilitation to help transitional students who lack work experience by finding and funding on-the-job training. Opportunity Services also serves adults with a broad range of disabilities, providing personalized job placement, ongoing support and more.

Article Photos

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From left, Leonie Wennekers, Opportunity Services employment coordinator; Kevin Maloney, Harry Chapin Food Bank IT director; and Darlene Free, Opportunity Services supported employment supervisor.

"It's really beautiful to see people finding competitive employment that otherwise would not have a chance," said Wennekers.

With a knack for resourcefulness, Wennekers saw an opportunity to donate retired video-conferencing equipment to the Harry Chapin Food Bank, instead of shipping it away to collect dust in some warehouse.

As it turns out, donating technology is a common practice in the nonprofit world-as Kevin Maloney, the IT manager with Harry Chapin Food Bank explains.

"There's a number of organizations that do this," he said. "However, in our world there are some restrictions that we have to abide by."

The Harry Chapin Food Bank is overseen by its national office, Feeding America, which places requirements on the models of equipment that should be run and kept current. Because of this, the local food bank's ability to accept any electronic donation is limited.

"But I will say that I've never said 'no' outright to any organization that offers," said Maloney. "Because even if I know for a fact we can't use it, or it's a model we're not allowed to carry, then what I'll do is request that they get in touch with our programs department."

There, Maloney explained, the Harry Chapin Food Bank has over 170 partner agencies that range anywhere from large nonprofit organizations to small churches and social groups.

The smaller organizations don't usually have the same restrictions and also tend to be a lower in their budget.

"A lot of the times I will try to connect one of our agencies with the donor in questions and see if we can make the partnership work," he said. "That way, it's still going to a useful place and a good mission."

Serving as a liaison between nonprofit organizations to find technology a good home doesn't seem like the typical role for an IT guy. But in the nonprofit world, everyone wears a philanthropic hat.

The video-conferencing equipment was originally used by Opportunity Services to have hands-on communications throughout its various locations in Florida, Minnesota, and Massachusetts. Now, it will be used by Harry Chapin Food Bank's Fort Myers headquarters to communicate with its newly opened branch in Naples, Fla.

The nonprofit world is all about building relationships, as every relationship can lead to an opportunity for someone in need. Inevitably, technology has found a way to embed itself into these relationships as the gift that keeps on giving. In this sense, tech is more than an avenue for business advancement-but it could just be the missing link at an opportunity for somebody who would have never otherwise had one.

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a business partner with Opportunity Services, please contact the Fort Myers office at 239-936-2773. Likewise, the Harry Chapin Food Bank can be reached at 239-334-7007.



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