Archive for the ‘Staten Island’ Category

Why Maintaining Your Own Site Works

September 3, 2012

A few years ago, St. John’s Episcopal Church on Staten Island hired us to revamp their website. The original site was serviceable but, well, blue-ish and gray-ish, and not very welcoming. Here’s a screenshot, captured from the Wayback Machine:

St. John's website in 2008
St. John’s Episcopal Church website in 2008.



How Unitarians Do a Website

December 26, 2011
Unitarian Church of Staten Island

Unitarian Church of Staten Island

Churches and other faith-based organizations often have wonderful websites, right up until the people who created them leave. Sometimes they move away; sometimes they burn out. In either case, the organization is left with a site that becomes more outdated every week, once a week.

The Unitarian Church of Staten Island was almost in this position. Their longtime webmaster was stepping down, but luckily, two members of the Communications Committee were willing to take on the job.

But let me digress for a moment: The Unitarian Church of  Staten Island, which was founded by abolitionists, has a long history of social activism. Their most famous member was Robert Gould Shaw, who led the 54th Massachusetts Regiment composed of freed slaves, in the fateful Civil War attack on Battery Wagner, Morris Island, SC. He was immortalized, along with his regiment, in the film Glory.

The 21st century members are no slouches either. Their Social Justice Committee is involved with the Staten Island Building Bridges Coalition and helped celebrate Food Day 2011. One of their Small Group Ministries has a fair trade coffee program, and the church itself shelters homeless men from Project Hospitality every night.

So it was obvious to us at Fast Smart Web Design that this group of people would have the intellectual, physical, and spiritual energy to maintain their own site. We showed one member how to use Adobe Contribute, and the other already knew how to use Adobe Dreamweaver. Between them, they’ve kept the site up to date and have solved most of the inevitable glitches on their own. Check out their Sunday Services and Upcoming Events pages to see how well they (as well as the church) are doing.

The web administrators said they’re willing to talk to other faith-based organizations about the process of redesigning  and then maintaining an organizational website. Not all the issues are technical, they point out — the team needs to be able to manage privacy, workload, and interpersonal issues as well. Contact us if you’d like to get in touch with them.

What We Did for Meals on Wheels of Staten Island

December 26, 2011

Meals on Wheels of Staten Island

As a Meals on Wheels (MOW) volunteer since 2001, Victor has been delivering meals every Wednesday to about twenty elderly clients. He noticed that the Meals on Wheels of Staten Island website hadn’t been updated for years, and when he asked, he found that MOW didn’t have much of a relationship with their web developers. They had trouble contacting anyone at the company and no one from the company tried to contact them.

Fast Smart Web Design offered to redo the website and set up the new version in such a way that the (extremely overworked) volunteer administrator could easily update the pages herself. She now regularly updates the newsletters and tweaks the pages when rules or procedures change.

In the redesign, we also

  • connected Meals on Wheels with PayPal for donations, memberships, and events
  • created volunteer and client application forms with reCAPTCHAs to reduce spam
  • added an SSL certificate to make sure that no one outside MOW could access clients’ information without their permission
  • added a translation widget to make it easier for multilingual clients to understand what was on the pages
  • included a widget that made the type larger (or smaller) to help older adults read the pages

Rejected! Tattfoo Tan on getting rejection letters

December 9, 2011

COAHSI’s blog has a write-up by Tattfoo Tan on applying for arts grants, what it feels like to be rejected, and what to do about it. Perfect. Check it out.

The 1776 Celebration at the Conference House

September 7, 2011

The following describes the 2010 1776 Peace Conference Celebration at the Conference House on Staten Island. It is by Nicholas Zvegintzov, whose many interests and projects are visible here:

I successfully but sleepily caught the 11:01 train in St. George, about 45 minutes to Tottenville, the end of the line, where the front of the train almost ends in the water at a long-abandoned ferry landing.

I first took this trip in 1979, when there were still some old wooden rail coaches on a siding and on the street approaching the ferry a boarded-up porticoed building, perhaps part of an old hotel. Both are gone, but otherwise it is very much the same – well, more clustered town houses on the far side of the Kill van Kull.

Reenactors with soup tureen

I walked through prosperous tree-lined streets past some pleasant houses built on the shore, and got directions from a man who was exercising two dogs and two teenage daughters. He comes here every Sunday, but had little idea what the Conference House was or the Conference. ‘In 1976? Ah, 1776. Tell my daughter, she should learn.’ His daughter of course not very interested. (more…)

Secede from the Union over Farm Food? Maine Town Passes Landmark Local Food Ordinance

April 25, 2011

In March, Sedgwick, a small town on the coast of Maine, passed a “Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance” that says that farmers selling directly from their farms to customers don’t need to be licensed or inspected by state and federal governments. The ordinance also exempts foods made in home kitchens from licensing and inspection.

Sedgwick farmer Bob St. George points out that “until the last couple generations, we didn’t need a special license or new facility each time we wanted to sell something to our neighbors. Small farmers and producers have been getting squeezed out in the name of food safety, yet it’s the industrial food that is causing food borne illness, not us.”

The ordinance is online ( to make it easy for other towns to follow Sedgwick’s example. However, one of the ordinance’s most interesting aspects is the declaration of (possible) independence:

The foundation for making and adoption of this law is the peoples’ fundamental and inalienable right to govern themselves, and thereby secure their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Any attempt to use other units and levels of government to preempt, amend, alter or overturn this Ordinance or parts of this Ordinance shall require the Town to hold public meetings that explore the adoption of other measures that expand local control and the ability of citizens to protect their fundamental and inalienable right to self-government. It is declared that those other measures may legitimately include the partial or complete separation of the Town from the other units and levels of government that attempt to preempt, amend, alter, or overturn this Ordinance.

Is selling food at a farm stand an inalienable right? It made me laugh at first, but here on Staten Island, it seems that neighbors aren’t allowed to sell, swap, or even give away their backyard produce except under of cover of night, over the back fence. That can’t be right. Bushels of figs, apples, and persimmons rot on the ground every fall while folks in the housing projects can’t afford an old peach in the local bodega.

The Unhealthy Neighborhood

April 25, 2011

A few years ago, it became obvious to food pantries and organizations like City Harvest that it wasn’t enough to just give food away.  They needed to give people healthy food. People in low-income neighborhoods have high levels of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, at least partly because they can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Mobile Market at the Stapleton Houses in January 2011. Russian-speaking volunteer (and founder of Software Management News) Nicholas Zvegintzov faces the camera.

City Harvest now delivers hundreds of pound of free fruits and vegetables twice a month to Melrose in the Bronx; Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn; and Stapleton on Staten Island. They also promote good nutrition in local schools, do healthy cooking classes and demos, sponsor health screenings and outreach, and work with “Healthy Corner Stores” that agree to sell at least a dozen types of produce.

However, researchers seem to have found another wrinkle in what makes a neighborhood unhealthy. In the “The Poverty Clinic” (New Yorker, March 21, 2011), Paul Tough writes about the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study that assessed the health of patients enrolled in California’s Kaiser HMO between 1994 and 1998. At the same time as the researchers tracked health outcomes, they also surveyed their clients about ten adverse childhood experiences such as parental divorce, physical and sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and violence in their homes and schools.

The results were scary. The higher the ACE score, the worse the outcome. Compared to people with no history of ACEs, people with ACE scores of four or higher were twice as likely to smoke, to have been diagnosed with cancer, and to have heart disease. Even more scary: Patients with ACE scores of seven or higher who didn’t smoke, didn’t drink to excess, and weren’t overweight still had a risk for ischemic heart disease that was 360 percent higher than for patients with zero scores.

Not all researchers agree that traumatic childhood experiences and later poor health correlate as strongly as the studies seem to show, says Tough. However, it’s something to keep in mind when healthy-food advocates try to measure how their interventions affect the health of a child, a family, or a neighborhood.

NYC’s 2011 Budget: Who Speaks for Parks?

May 19, 2010

A water filtration pond in Conference House Park, 2009, before the damage

A water filtration pond in Conference House Park, 2009, before the nor'easter damage in 2010

Dr. Marcia Van Wagner, assistant comptroller in the New York City Comptroller’s Office, talked about the NYC budget Monday, May 17, 2010, on Staten Island.

Here are some highlights:

  • Financially, New York City is the fourth largest government in the U.S. The federal government manages the most money, followed by California, New York State, and then New York City.
  • Because of the Financial Emergency Act, passed in the 1970s when the city was about to go bankrupt, the city must balance its budget and also keep a reserve of at least $100 million (in practice, the cushion is $300 million).
  • The city gets 60 percent of its revenues from taxes and most of the rest from the state and federal governments. Total revenues in fiscal year 2010 (from July 1 to June 30) were $60 billion.
  • Fifty-seven percent of the money was spent on salaries, pensions, and benefits. The rest was spent on social services (17 percent), contracts, and other non-personnel expenses.
  • Breaking down expenditures by function, 30 percent was spent on education (including salaries), 20 percent on social services, 13 percent on public safety (police, fire), 16 percent on pensions and benefits, and the rest on environmental protection, sanitation, health, and paying off debt.
  • The city has a nifty acronym for methods used to balance the budget: PEG, or “Programs to Eliminate the Gap.” Van Wagner offered a few examples: Increasing parking-ticket fees would be a revenue PEG. Eliminating fire houses would be an expense PEG.


“How much should I pay for a website?”

December 18, 2009

One of the organizations I belong to is the Staten Island Netpreneurs, which is a great technical resource for local small businesses. (For those of you who can’t make it to Staten Island once a month, Viv wrote a piece about starting your own group.)

In our monthly meetings, we start with a talk, usually by a member, about some e-commerce problem or idea, and end with questions from the floor, answered from the floor. Each meeting is about a dozen people.

This Wednesday, one of the members, the owner of a spa, asked how much he should have to pay to get a website set up. There were two contradictory answers and then a third answer,  a combination of the two.

Answer 1: Set up a blog. Blogs are free and they’re easy to set up, design, and run. You don’t need any special skills.

Answer 2: Don’t set up a blog. A blog only works if you add to it regularly. But as you add material, whatever you wrote earlier gets pushed to the bottom of the page or into a monthly archive. So if you have a particular message (mission statement, list of services, etc.) that you want readers to see as soon as they come to your site, it’s invisible after a month or so.

Answer 3: Set up a blog, see what works, and then create a website based on what you’ve learned. You can find out what appeals to your readers by the responses you get and the clicks reported for each post, and you may also find out what’s most important to you as you write about your business or organization. Then, by the end of six months or a year, you’ll know what should be on your real, fixed website.

The hardest and most time-consuming part of designing a website is figuring out what you want, and the less clear you are, the more expensive the process is, since your designer has to revise and re-revise the site.  (As a web designer, this is a process I know all too well.)

The spa owner is probably going to go with answer #3: set up a blog and create a website later when he knows what works. No doubt he’ll be our guest speaker in a few months.