Community

Giving Veterans a New Mission With Team Rubicon

Roughly 100 volunteers, covered in mud and sweat, were packed into a junior high school gymnasium in Wimberley, Texas. They’d just returned from a sunrise to sunset day of mucking out homes in a community devastated by flooding.

It was their job to help begin the recovery process – to salvage what they could of people’s lives and property. And this was their resting place for the evening. Portable cots, lined up, one beside another across a hardwood floor.

For them, this was hardly an inconvenience. In fact, it brought back memories of the military brigades they rallied with when in uniform. But for the next several days, there would be no battlefields. Instead, they were uniting their unique skillsets – their abilities to get into, adapt to, and thrive in disaster zones – to rapidly deploy emergency response teams.

This was an honor. This was their new calling.

Over the past five years, thousands of other U.S. military veterans and first responders have deployed to more than 100 disasters – from hurricanes and earthquakes to floods and tornadoes – around the world as a part of Team Rubicon. What began with a team of eight, led by two marines putting their experience to work in response to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, has grown into something special. Today, Team Rubicon has nearly 30,000 volunteers organized into 10 geographic regions across the country, ready to respond at a moment’s notice. 

By tapping their unique skills and offering training programs – which range from risk assessment and heavy equipment operation to firefighting and suicide prevention expertise – Team Rubicon increases the efficiency of disaster response efforts. The nonprofit organization also provides veterans with the sense of purpose, community and identity they need in order to transition successfully to civilian life. 

Their designated geographic regions mirror the FEMA organizational model and – when combined with Team Rubicon’s adoption of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) – allow them to rapidly deploy crisis response teams within hours of disasters happening. Team Rubicon’s adoption of FEMA’s NIMS standard is unique and is not required of nonprofit organizations. But because it’s the national standard for response, Team Rubicon has committed to it. This provides the organization the ability to communicate and interact with federal, state and county agencies in a manner that many other nonprofits cannot.

To further differentiate themselves, they’ve also developed a highly trained Incident Management Team (IMT) to build capacity among volunteer leaders in all 10 regions. IMT training, made possible through the financial support of organizations like Walmart, consists of advanced disaster relief concepts, leadership, culture, history, community cost recovery, technology systems, emergency management position cross-training and more.

They believe their track record on the scene of disasters around the world speaks for itself. But it's just as rewarding to see what these opportunities have brought to the lives of veterans along the way. According to a recent internal survey, 80% of volunteers are more satisfied with life following a deployment to a disaster zone with Team Rubicon. Nearly 97% feel a sense of community from being part of the team.

Team Rubicon is more than a team. The fact so many of their volunteers have tattooed the Team Rubicon logo on their bodies makes that immediately obvious. Name another service organization whose members permanently wear the logo. While their commitment to purpose and community drives their members’ sense of identity, it has certainly taken on a life of its own.



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Innovation

My Journey From EE to IoT at Walmart’s DFW Tech Hub

Before I joined the team here, I had no idea how innovative a 50-year-old retail company could be.

Like most people, I had interacted with Walmart as a customer in stores and online but had never really thought about the systems and technology functioning behind the scenes to make the whole thing work.

As we officially open our new Walmart Technology satellite HQ in Plano, Texas, this week, I’m reflecting on my evolving, 20-year journey in tech — from building circuit boards to developing software to, now, exploring ways to apply advances in the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, object detection and other emerging technologies in the increasingly blended world of physical-digital retail.

Here’s a great example:

It might seem like a small thing, but spills are a big deal on the sales floor. So we developed a concept to help stores quickly detect spills, building a quick alert system that linked a camera with a Raspberry Pi and sensors that sent photos and data from the sales floor to the cloud. There, we deployed learning algorithms to analyze and build models that helped identify spills.

It wasn’t perfect – but it worked! And even though we won’t bring our prototype to life in stores at scale, we’re able to learn fast and apply those learnings to other projects — like using machine learning and IoT similar to our Raspberry Pi-based sensory concept to cut energy use and cost, all while keeping the temperature comfortable for associates and customers in our stores.

I’ve only been at Walmart four months, but it’s been a blast. I’m still blown away by the many different applications of emerging technology in something as simple as a retail store. But really, retail isn’t simple. It’s complex, the scale is insane and the industry is rapidly transforming. What an awesome time and place to experiment, innovate, fail fast and learn quickly.

It makes my brain happy, and I’m glad it’s happening here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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Community

This School-Run Garden is Helping Nourish an Arizona Community

Moencopi Day School in Tuba City, Arizona, has offered a garden learning program for over 10 years. But it was just last spring that student-grown produce first appeared on this elementary school’s cafeteria lunch line—a Hopi Nation first.

That special lunch was important for Moencopi Day School. For the fifth graders who made it happen, the impact came over months of learning and preparation. Guided by Steven Lomadafkie, a science and environmental educator at the school, and two AmeriCorps service members recruited and trained by FoodCorps, an organization connecting kids to healthier foods and the natural world, the students planted and tended lettuce, gaining skills and pride in the resulting harvest.

Through washing the greens and planning a school-wide party, the students built a connection with cafeteria staff—who saw the infectious enthusiasm kids could have for a vegetable. By modeling positive eating behaviors, these fifth graders became healthy food champions, spreading the joy of good nutrition to their peers. It’s the sum of these ongoing, school-wide experiences that shapes children’s eating habits and their lifelong benefits.

A belief in hands-on learning is something that Moencopi Day School is embracing in its second year of partnership with FoodCorps and local nonprofit Moenkopi Developers Corporation. This year’s FoodCorps service member, Curt Cebula, is building on last year’s progress, expanding greenhouse lessons to all grades and increasing the frequency of taste tests. “The kids love him,” Steven says of Curt. “Sometimes he’ll get 10 hugs before a class starts.”

Curt says he sees once-reluctant students now open to trying new foods—especially when they’ve had a hand in making them. Some parents have even told Steven their kids have asked to start a garden at home.

Moencopi’s parent liaison, Trinity Honahnie, says Curt has been instrumental in engaging the community, another critical ingredient in the FoodCorps recipe. His support of a new school-wide take-home meal kit program, featuring traditional Hopi foods and recipes, has helped parents connect with what’s happening at school while reinforcing healthy habits at home. A taste test he led at a parent-teacher conference sparked a new energy.

“It was just a turnaround overnight,” Trinity says. “Curt has really brought some light to our greenhouse program.”

Principals, teachers, and parents understand that this type of positive change is important. FoodCorps strives to make its program effective, accessible and relevant to all schools. This year it introduced a new series of elementary school hands-on food lessons, each tied to national academic standards, which teachers can adapt and weave into classroom lessons. Thanks to support from funders like the Walmart Foundation, this year FoodCorps will reach 160,000 kids around the country.

At the end of the day, FoodCorps serves to make it easier for schools to do what they do best: give students the nourishment they need, in body and mind, to thrive. It’s the passion of local leaders, like Steven, that makes the impact we seek truly possible.

“This is probably the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Erica Curry, director of program resources and practices at FoodCorps, oversees the development of resources for FoodCorps’ service program, including a new series of nutrition education lessons that makes it easier for schools to integrate hands-on nutrition education into standard curricula. FoodCorps is proud to be supported nationally by the Walmart Foundation as together we seek to reach children with high quality, impactful nutrition education that sets kids up for healthy futures.

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Innovation

Hundreds More High-Tech Pickup Towers are Headed Your Way

You know how handy vending machines can be when you’re craving a snack or a drink. But have you ever imagined a giant vending machine that could help you get your online orders faster and save you money on shipping?

It may sound like a high-tech dream, but these machines, known as Pickup Towers, became a reality in nearly 200 of our stores over the last year. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, more than half a million orders have been retrieved through the towers since we first introduced them.

Because of this success, we’re rapidly expanding this pickup program by adding more than 500 additional Pickup Towers to stores across the country, bringing the total to more than 700 by the end of the year. With this expansion, Pickup Towers will be available to nearly 40% of the U.S. population.

Our customers have been clear: They love the Pickup Tower. But, they also told us they wanted the ability to retrieve larger items the same way. That’s why every new Pickup Tower will come with Pickup Lockers, making it just as easy to pick up that new TV as it is to pick up a new baseball glove.

But why stop there? We’ve launched all kinds of innovative services for busy families, including Online Grocery Pickup, Pickup Discount, Mobile Express Scan & Go, our growing grocery delivery service and a new partnership with Google Express. We’re even testing additional concepts, similar to the Pickup Tower, that could make picking up your online order even better in the future.

As we continue to innovate, we’ll keep listening to our associates and customers to improve the Walmart experience – and who knows? – maybe next time you’re in a Walmart store you’ll be greeted by the newest way to save time and money.

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Opportunity

How Tech Can Bridge the Employment Opportunity Gap

Having recently arrived to the U.S. from Cape Verde, Africa, Solange is eager to improve her English and pass her citizenship exam. She hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and build a brighter future for her two young girls.

Now a hotel room attendant, she has limited time to study. But through a new program available on her smartphone, she can take courses anytime, anywhere, right from the palm of her hand.

Technology is quickly changing how we live our lives, helping to make so many things easier, cheaper and faster. It’s also changing the way we work. Research suggests that innovations like artificial intelligence have the potential to significantly shift what certain types of work look like in the future.

While these changes might cause some to worry, they also provide an incredible opportunity to help us work in ways we haven’t before. Imagine being able to match your unique skillsets, strengths and personality in a way that helps you find the right job. Or learning new skills through an app or platform that performs as easily as social media does. Or technology that connects you directly to services that can help overcome specific career barriers.

Helping bring technologies like these to life is exactly what the Employment Technology Fund (ETF) has set out to do. Funded by the Walmart, Rockefeller, Joyce and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, the ETF invests in organizations and companies that have developed technology-enabled solutions that help workers overcome the barriers that often hold them back from advancing their skills, connecting to meaningful work and ultimately living up to their full potential. In doing so, the ETF strives to increase equal opportunities for millions of working adults – many of whom are women, minorities and immigrants.

ETF's latest social investments include Signal Vine, a company that uses text messaging to deliver highly personalized and interactive coaching to drive better behaviors and outcomes; SkillSmart, a skills-matching platform that increases transparency in the career development and job search process; and Nepris, a video-driven platform that provides teachers and students a way to connect with professionals around the world. These three companies exemplify a growing force of new entrepreneurs who share the belief that technology can drive social and economic progress.

With additional funding from the Walmart Foundation, ETF is working with The EdTech Center at World Education to field test the products ETF has invested in and provide the larger workforce development field with information about effective employment technology products and practices.

Currently, World Education is field testing ETF’s first two portfolio companies– Cell-Ed and Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment – both of which have national and international reach. In Boston, Seaport Hotel employees who are studying workplace English have just started extending their learning on Cell-Ed, a mobile solution offering interactive text and audio lessons over cellular, rather than internet. Adult learners, including refugees and dislocated workers, in computer and job skills programs across Minneapolis and at libraries in Providence, Rhode Island, user tested newly updated Northstar assessments before formal release last week.

When we embrace the changes technology innovation sends our way, we’re better able to harness the opportunities it provides us. ETF is proud to be working together with like-minded companies and organizations to find technology solutions that will help bring meaningful employment to all.

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