Computer skills for safety

Justin Williams

By Ray Dyer

In 1998, the San Diego Padres drafted Justin Williams out of Union City High School. His dream of becoming a Major League pitcher appeared to be on its way to becoming reality.

But after a third arm surgery, Williams decided his future was not in baseball. The days of throwing fastballs and junk balls gave way to a degree in computer programming and a job with a major cell phone provider.

But after killer tornadoes struck Moore and El Reno last May, Williams and some friends decided they should put their computer skills to use for a higher calling, trying to help keep Oklahoma children safe during severe weather.

What Williams and his cohorts have created is basically “eBay for schools” in an effort to help build safe rooms.

The site, www.supportokschools.com, allows people to place items for sale, choose a school and then designate how much the school will receive off the sale of the item.

A person can give from 1 percent to 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale to the designated school. The site uses Paypal, which Williams said, means neither he nor any of his partners ever touch a dime of the money. The funds are deposited into an account with Shelter Oklahoma Schools, a nonprofit organization created following the May 20 tornado that killed seven schoolchildren in Moore. Shelter Oklahoma Schools is administered by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation. More information about that organization can be found at www.shelteroklahoma.org.

“When a school is ready to build a safe room, the funds collected are released to it,” Williams said.

Williams said he spent months researching the issue and found the majority of Oklahoma’s 1,700 schools have no shelter or safe room. He said the state Department of Education does not have a way to raise money for shelters and neither do the individual schools.

A school can’t save up money from year to year for a shelter, Williams said. He said by law, school districts cannot save carry-over funds for a particular purpose, the funds have to be used for general operation.

So far, the website has attracted 1,200 views. It will not be approved as a fundraiser until September when individual schools approve fundraisers for the coming school year.

Williams said the website can provide a greater return to schools than “selling candy bars.”

“A school gets 20-30 percent for selling a $1 candy bar,” Williams said. With his website, a school could receive “100 percent of the purchase” if the seller wishes to share it with the school. The information is posted on the site so people can see how much and to which school the donation is being made.

Williams said he did his homework and found there are 180,000 people in the Oklahoma City area aligned with some 60 different Facebook garage sale groups. He said contacting these online buyers and sellers has led to some “good response.”

With a child in Mustang Trails Elementary, Williams said he has seen how teachers spend their own money to get things for their classrooms, not supplied by the district.

“My son’s teacher will spend $200 to $300 of her own money every year for classroom needs,” Williams said. He said that should not be tolerated and said the new website can be used for all kinds of school fundraisers, once safe rooms have been built.