San Diego’s Computer Magazine – April 15, 1994, Volume 12, No. 15 – by James Trageser

Catholic Charities Leads Nonprofits Into the Computer Age

              When you think of the Catholic Church, you usually think of the sense of tradition stretching back into the ions.  But in San Diego, a branch of the local Diocese, Catholic Charities is on the cutting edge of the technological revolution. 

            For the past five years, San Diego Catholic Charities has been leading the way in using the power of computers in meeting its mission of social service.  In fact through its electronic Bulletin Board System (BBS), Catholic Charities has been helping other nonprofit social service agencies bring technological innovation to their own work.

            David Almada, who was just getting ready to step down as computer coordinator for Catholic Charities when interviewed in mid-March, said the BBS was started in 1989.  It began as a joint program between the diocese, the city of San Diego, and the county.  The two governments put up the money to buy the computer to run the BBS, as well as providing 25 other nonprofit charities with computer equipment and modems so that they could access the BBS.  Catholic Charities provided space and telephone lines for the BBS computer and for Almada to run the system and help out the client agencies in taking advantage of BBS services.

            For a current fee of about $10 a month (which is used to keep the system up and running), client agencies get an internet E-mail address (via a contract with CTSNet), an on-line database program (FoxBase), and storage areas for E-mail, database files (which are secure and viewable only to the client, or whatever else the client wishes to store there.  In addition, if clients need to forward files or use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) services, Catholic Charities will perform that for them. 

            There are on-line help files available, as well as several conversation areas where the nonprofit agencies can seek advice on computer problems or other common issues.

            The computers used to access the BBS by the clients still belong to the program, and if a client decides to drop out of the BBS program, the computer and modem will be assigned to another nonprofit agency.

            Any nonprofit, nonpolitical agency is eligible for the program, Almada said.  He pointed out that a Lutheran group is one of the participating agencies, even though the Catholic and Lutheran churches have not always gotten along very well, as is an AIDS service program, blowing holes in another stereotype.

            Almada said that like most BBS sysops, he kept an eye out for useful public domain and shareware programs for his clients.  He would then send E-mail with attached files to make the software available, since many of the agencies’ employees were not technically oriented and might not have searched through a files area for the available programs (or known what to do with them once found).

            He also built a database of E-mail addresses for more than 4,000 nonprofit social service agencies from around the world.  With a mail-merge program, he was able to keep groups abreast of current issues and trends in electronic communications.

            Catholic Charities didn’t always have such a sophisticated setup, of course, Almada said that when he was hired in 1984, he was working on an original IBM PC with two floppy drives.  Today, the agency uses an SCO Xenix network, and the Diocese just acquired an AS4000 system.

            Although Almada has decided to move on to another job, he said Catholic Charities remains committed to the BBS program and to supporting other nonprofit social service agencies – and Almada still plans to volunteer as much time as he can.

            “It’s a very good value for agencies needing Internet mail,” Almada said.  And as common meeting ground for two dozen different agencies, the Catholic Charities BBS serves as an unofficial hub for San Diego County.