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Where Loyalty and Trust Still Matter

It was in 2010 when Skip Guenter began winding his way through friends and contacts, finally succeeding in finding our organization a place to call home.

That place is Taylor, Texas.

Since 2005, HeliOS/Reglue has operated from any place we could find. We’ve worked from garages, work sheds, tack rooms, barns, the back of pickup trucks and even in monthly storage places.

But we are home now.

Taylor a small town of 15.5K or so. Big enough to have a Walmart but small enough for the checkout clerk to know you by your first name, as well as the names of your spouse and kids. That’s also true of the people at the post office, the bank, the grocery store, the vehicle registration place…. And that’s kind of nice.

Reglue loyalityIn our time here, I’ve had the opportunity to know many of the teachers at the high school and middle school. Taylor’s small town manners have rubbed off on most of the kids they teach. Even after prompting many of them to address me as Ken, I am still called “Mr. Starks” or “sir.” I tell them my dad was “Mr. Starks” and they are free to address me by my first name, but they still adhere to their proper upbringing. It’s like that in a small town.

We prefer to do most of our work within Eastern Williamson County. This part of the county is comprised of smaller towns that have taken longer than many to work their way out of the troubled economy. Some haven’t recovered at all. We have no problem finding kids who cannot afford a computer in this area.

The only reason that Williamson County as a whole shows a high per capita income is because Round Rock is home to thousands of “dellionaires.” Round Rock is the international headquarters for Dell. Dellionaires are Dell employees who owned Dell stock before it took off and made them some money. A lot of money. At one time there were everyday employees at Dell worth a million dollars or more — thus the term “dellionaires.” Without them, Williamson county population would have a much lower income average.

The Reglue “international headquarters” in Taylor, Texas is an old converted World War II army barracks that has served different organizations over the years. The occupant before us was the local Meals on Wheels kitchen and center. With permission from the Taylor city fathers, we were allowed to gut the inside and build it to our purposes. And if that wasn’t enough leeway, the City of Taylor pays our utilities and maintenance.

All they require from us?

“Destroy the digital divide in Taylor,” said Jeff Straub, Interim City Manager in 2011.

And that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do.

We did get some salt poured on our tail while I was recovering from cancer treatments. For almost a year I was healing and unable to work, but we’ve again found our stride and we’re going to do our best to put ourselves out of business. We want to “destroy the digital divide” here in Taylor and the greater eastern Williamson County area.

We get lulls in activity at predictable times of the year. Spring break and summer vacation are two that come to mind immediately. We use that time to gather more workable machines and do stuff around the shop. Right now, it looks like a bomb went off. We’re doing a detailed stock inventory to account for our stuff. I have stuff scattered all over the place.

It was during this spring break that I was visited by two gentleman from Austin.

Creepy they were, the both of them. They impressed me as a cross between Fuller Brush salesmen and NSA agents. They introduced themselves as representing a consortium of non profit and for profit organizations that work with the financially disadvantaged in and around Austin. From helping with overdue electric bills to helping single parents find a car, they represented a list of resources that might be able to help.

They started asking questions before I could start asking any of my own.

Why did we decide on moving to Taylor when we had such a great presence in Austin? Are there any salaried people working for our organization? If we were to move back to Austin, what would our facility requirements be? And among our directors, did we have any that were female? Racially, how did our directors break down in numbers?

This whole time I am mentally wondering what kind of organization would want to know the answers to these questions. Refer to above reference to NSA agents. I couldn’t tell if I was being qualified for an HR position or a home loan.

I answered what I thought were the pertinent questions and then asked why they had an interest in Reglue. They said that our organization could do much, much more if we were properly “administered.” This group was willing to set us up in our own facility, supply us a dedicated vehicle for Reglue business and guarantee a base of $500 a month in donations. They could also guarantee that 20 thousand motivated donors a month would be presented a chance to donate to our project.

I’m going to be honest here, although it might work against me to do so. There have been stretches of time when we didn’t get $500.00 in donations in a year. This offer alone gave me pause. So what was the catch? I had to ask them twice before they gave me a clear answer.

“Your organization will add two directors of our choosing and Reglue will be administered by a specified organization.”

At this point an “agreement” was presented to me and I was asked to sign. The document was three pages, with much of the text being too small for me to read clearly. The document wasn’t presented for my review or discussion with our board; it was presented for me to sign on the spot.

I know a high pressure sales pitch when I see one. This was shaping up to be just such a pitch. It’s an extremely old sales tactic…use two salesmen to wear the mark down. That’s true Rainbow vacuum/Cutco Cutlery sales tactics. I was trying to figure out what their “hook” was — how our participation in their consortium would benefit them.

They would provide all the above mentioned perks for fiftee percent of our annual donations. Ah…as always it comes down to money. I asked them to leave my shop. Now. And they did.

I still don’t know who they were or who they represented. But I do know where my loyalties are. They are locked safely away at 307 Ferguson Street in Taylor, Texas. The kids we can help are overly abundant here. We have a great setup where we are.

The city fathers gave us this facility in good faith. In faith that we would do what we said we were going to do…and now we are doing it. But that’s not where the loyalty and respect ends. The fact is, it doesn’t even begin there. It began when the first donation came in from the Linuxphere. Over the past nine years, it’s been you who have allowed us to do the work we do. It’s been you who trust us enough to spend your donation money where it is most needed.

The money promised to us by our visitors? To me it equated to 30 pieces of silver. I wasn’t able to betray your trust like that.

Our help is needed here in Eastern Williamson County. There are a few organizations like ours in Austin, although they take a bit of a different tact in how they do it. But out here where the lights of the city are miles away and people still operate on a handshake and a promise, we will continue to aid the under served and the least fortunate. I promised you that when this whole thing started in February of 2005 and I am going to do that until I am unable to do so any longer.

I promise.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project that refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area.

6 comments to Where Loyalty and Trust Still Matter

  • Great post, Ken. Obviously, that sounds like a racket, and Taylor is beyond lucky to have Reglue in its city limits. Keep up the great work.

  • Uncle Geek

    Thanks for being where we need you, Ken. Glad you’re not depending on my business sense.

  • James Dixon

    Any one want to guess what Operating System that administering organization would have demanded be used?

  • Mike

    @James

    That’s a pretty creepy thought.

  • Israel

    Thanks for having integrity, and standing up for the community and what you believe is the right thing to do! I think this is the integral part that has held the FLOSS community together all these years!

  • Eddie G.

    Thank you “Mr. Starks” for proving to me…and my 13 year old son…that there still IS decency, dedication, honor, and resolute will in this world where people seem to be looking for the “easy” way to do everything! As for the “suits”…I’ve no doubt whatsoever they were sent by the “Tiny Not-Hard” company, bet you dollar to donuts that as soon as you had signed that document, you would have received another letter in the mail after the first week or two of moving to your new digs…a letter stating that you had given your “consent” to have ReGlue used as seen fit by the “parent company”…which would no doubt have shut you down PDQ! So once again I applaud the strength you showed, the strength to turn down the “easy” money in order to replace it with Honor!

    Cheers!!