Saturday, April 16, 2011

Santa's Elves

I am so thrilled that my non-profit corporation has finally been established. I still have some business things to take care of, like electing officers, and appointing a board of directors, getting my Tax ID number, and things, but once that is completed, my team can now get down to business. And as soon as I can find a small place (combination warehouse and office), I can move all of the electronics I have stored at my house and office (computers, monitors, cell phones, radios, DVD and VCR units, etc.).

If you click on the link above, it will take you to the blog page I set up for Santa's Elves. Unfortunately, since it took way too long to get the incorporation completed (since the first documents my lawyer submitted said we were in the business of promoting sporting events in the community!), I am afraid I will not be able to roll this out in the large way I had hoped to for Christmas 2011 (although, we will still be able to deliver product, but I just won't be able to put forth a publicity campaign on the larger level that I had initially planned).

What started all of this was, ironically, being at Los Angeles City College during the time that Zaire was taking his singing classes there on Saturdays. While we parents (and grandparents) were in the hallway listening to the children, I had noticed that one of the mothers was loading up a T-Mobile prepaid card onto her Nokia (very old cell phone). Now, at that time, I also had a T-Mobile prepaid cell phone, but I had a Sidekick, which had a QWERTY pull out keyboard, and for the price of $1 per day, I had unlimited texting, access to the internet (but not like a droid or with the power of 2G, 3G or 4G), the ability to instant message on services like Yahoo, AIM and MSN, and the phone had a camera, a small recording device, a music player, and games. Because I opted for the prepaid plan, I had to buy the phone outright, which was $299.00. I paid an extra $50 for a 1 gig memory card. The only drawback was that cell calls were still expensive, at $.15 per minute, so I rarely used it to talk, but I most definitely texted like a mofo on that thing. Plus, since I could use Yahoo Messenger on it, sometimes when I was sick at home but still had to communicate with work (at that time, all the attorneys and I communicated via Yahoo IMs), I didn't have to keep getting up to run to the computer if someone IM'd me from work, I could keep the phone next to me in bed, and communicate that way.

But, I wanted a droid phone, and had promised myself to get one that year. Actually, I wasn't sure at the time if I wanted a droid as much as I was interested in getting a prepaid Boost phone that allowed unlimited texting AND cell calls, and my daughter had been using her Boost phone for a while and was quite happy with it. And it was costing her only $40 a month.

So, I asked the mother if she might be interested in my Sidekick. She asked me how much for it, and I told her it was free, and that I was simply looking for someone who would actually want it and use it, since it was prepaid, and it was not especially great if you were a "talker" because of the price of the minutes. She informed me that she had a teenage son that might be interested in it, and the next week she brought him to LACC and I let him play around with the phone. He got so excited about the possibility of having the phone, mostly because of the unlimited texting feature, which on the regular T-Mobile phones like the old Nokia still charged you for outgoing text messages (incoming were free). Also, since that family already were on the T-Mobile prepaid system, it was safe to assume they didn't call each other and chat endlessly, but used their cell phones mainly to just stay in touch or for emergency purposes. With the Sidekick, the teenager would finally be able to keep up with his peers in the ever growing world of texting without bankrupting his family! And, voila, I came up with the idea of Santa's Elves - giving away cell phones (because at that moment in time I probably had three old ones at home already that only needed to have new SIM cards installed) to individuals who could use an extra phone but just did not have the extra money to purchase one.

I told the family that as soon as I purchased my new phone, I'd call them and give the son my Sidekick. I still had the original box it came in, all the receipts for the purchase of the phone, the instruction booklet, etc.

When I went to buy my Boost phone, I had originally settled on getting a Blackberry. It was expensive, and the keyboard was small, but it did have wireless capabilities. However, when my friend and I went to get phones at this store, the owner steered us away from Boost and showed us this Virgin Mobile Samsung Intercept which had a pull out full QWERTY keyboard, 3G technology, WiFi capabilities, I was all over it! And for $40 per month, I also got 1200 minutes of airtime, of which since I have had the phone, I have rarely used up more than 600 minutes, and trust me, I have tried to talk on that phone as often as I can. I really like the new phone. It even has a video camera, which I didn't have with the Sidekick. I can view YouTube videos, surf the web fast (like the time I was stuck at a bus stop in the Valley in the evening and had no clue if a bus would even be stopping by, but thanks to fast access to the Metro website, I pulled up the schedule for that route, and found that it would be there in like 45 minutes - yeah the Valley sucks if you ride mass transit - but it would only take about five minutes from where I was to get to Universal City, which was a stop where the Metro Red Line subway connected, and which would quickly take me home). Although my pictures taken with the camera inside areas are sometimes a little too dark, the fact that they are no longer blurry like the ones I took from the Sidekick make me much happier about putting my photos online.

Anyway, I finally wrapped up the old Sidekick and called the mother who came and picked up the phone about a week before Christmas. I recently telephoned the family and spoke with the teenager, and he was just raving about the phone, he loved it so much. Yeah, I can bet he did, just being able to finally join his friends in the texting arena without having to pay extra for that service was worth the $1 per day fee. Plus, the phone was FREE!!!!

That got me to thinking about the fact that my friend and I are constantly collecting old computers and gutting them and using the old parts to fix older computers. Or, the fact that some people when they don't want to pay to fix their laptops simply tell us to just "throw it away" and we are like WHAT? We don't throw anything away, we'll pay to fix the laptop and give it to someone that needs it. And that is where the fuller concept of Santa's Elves came into play. This year, when I posted at my apartment building that anyone who was getting rid of old TV's or other electronics, to put them in this corner of the building and I will take them, I ended up with like four old school televisions, and it took me a while to figure out why I was getting perfectly working televisions -- the flatscreen revolution! People were buying inexpensive flatscreens and didn't know what to do with their perfectly good, but old school television sets. Now my house is full (well, Zaire's room is full) of electronics, but eventually, they will be moved to a new place.

So, as Santa's Elve's blog site indicates, our aim is to provide low income families with that second television or that second computer or the extra cell phone that they desperately need but simply cannot afford.

It's nice to be able to give back to the community. We may be small to start out with, but I do believe that over time, we will grow and hope to take it nationwide in a few years. And with my connection to several international NGO sanctioned non-profits that like my idea, eventually we could go global.

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