City Hall To Go: The First Food Truck Serving Up Government Services to a Neighborhood Near You

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We’ve all had the experience of waiting in line for a government service. Whether your car’s gotten the boot and you’re waiting to pay off those tickets or you’re just trying to switch over your license plates, tapping shoes and stares at the slow-mo hands of the clock indicate that we need more efficiency in government services. Well, we’ve got TicketZen and ParkBoston now for paying tickets and meters…but what about other services? And what about for new mothers or the elderly? How can we make their lives less about trekking to City Hall and standing in lines?

Enter: City Hall to Go, the coolest concept on wheels this side of heavily populated food truck areas. This, folks, is civic tech at its finest. It’s the very definition of government “For the People.” Because it brings the government right to you.

We had the opportunity to chat with Danielle Valle Fitzgerald, Director of CHTG (@CityHallToGo) about how they created the concept and what they’ve been doing in the civic truck so far.

(Note: CHTG is on hiatus for the Winter, so now’s the perfect time to start making your list of needed services for Spring 2015!)

MSNE: I’ve been following the City Hall to Go Twitter for almost a year now. How long have you had the truck in action?

CHTG: We’ve been on the road for a little bit over a year now and have been learning as we go—increasing the amount of services available as well as the quality of service available. Whether it’s registering parking stickers or registering to vote, we’ve been doing a lot of work on the back end to streamline processes as well as continuing to be creative and come up with more ways to serve constituents.

MSNE: That’s great! How did this concept come to fruition?

CHTG: It came to fruition through a brainstorming session, as a way to really embrace the culture of food trucks that we have here in Boston, as well as be able to bring a human interaction to everything that we were doing. We started it as a prototype. We took a truck and we put some money into it to see whether or not it would work, and in the past year, services have increased 250%. It’s been incredibly popular and we’ve been really happy with how it’s been served.

It’s really about bringing services to where people work, so not only our social media and the services we provide online, but also the great way we are able to physically bring services to people in their neighborhoods.

MSNE: One of the challenges for city government and constituents is a disconnect. So, now you’re bringing City Hall to the people, rather than the other way around. 

CHTG: Yeah, which saves an untold amount of time, money, and energy commuting to City Hall and waiting in line. We built this for the elderly, for new mothers, and we really try to engage with the senior population to make sure that they know about it and that we can make life easier for the people who really deserve it.

MSNE: How important is it to have that hands-on, personal interaction with your constituents?

CHTG: It’s invaluable. It’s paramount to Mayor Walsh’s administration. The mayor cares about everyone in Boston and making sure we engage with them, look them in the eye and help them.

One way that we did it this year is we invented “Chief Chat,” where we took chiefs and department heads and brought them on City Hall to Go to neighborhoods so that they could have office hours in the community, and people could ask specific policy questions to the decision makers. And it was also great because not only did constituents get to ask questions, but it also gave those department heads the chance to listen without any filter.

MSNE: What’s painted on the truck?

CHTG: We literally took a map of the city of Boston and the actual streets, and as your eye is looking at the truck, you are following the streetscape of the city of Boston through all of the neighborhoods.

MSNE: Do any other cities have a City Hall to Go, or is this the first city hall food truck in existence?

CHTG: We are the first and we’ve had over 20 cities reach out to us to learn more about our programs. Three cities have created programs, so now Illinois has a City Hall to Go, and two cities in Canada have what they call city event vehicles, which are pop-up State Halls that come to neighborhood events.

MSNE: Do you think you’ll ever have a mobile City Hall meet-up?

CHTG: That’s like one of my dreams, even if it’s just a phone call to start. Maybe when we get five cities, we’ll be able to put something together.

MSNE: Could you tell me one of your best stories about the truck?

CHTG: There are so many times when a resident comes up to the truck for one thing and ends up doing five transactions. A woman came because she needed a copy of her birth certificate and she ended up getting a resident parking sticker, and she just moved so she registered to vote. She was really excited because she was able to check five things off her personal to-do list in less than five minutes.

MSNE: What kind of technology do you use on the truck?

CHTG: We actually have a Microsoft Surface on the truck. For example, we have user audit, which we give to our constituents so we are able to get some feedback. I also use it for when we have a line. We have two computers and sometimes three people. I am able to grab a Surface and get constituents’ information from outside the truck before they actually come up in the line.

MSNE: One last question. One of our pillars at Microsoft New England is civic technology, and we really focus on using Microsoft’s technology for social good. We think that the CHTG truck is one of the best examples we’ve seen of bringing technology directly to the people. What we want to ask is, what does civic technology mean to you? 

CHTG: It really means a lot to me. It’s probably the most important part of my role. I come from the campaign world of meeting outdoors, and we really always put people first. At the same time, there are all of these new inventions and ways to get the word out, and engage more. It’s really an exciting time to be here in Boston. There are so many ways we can make a difference.

Executing Governor Elect Baker’s Citizen-Centric Vision with Information Technology

Throughout his campaign, Governor-Elect Charlie Baker focused on jobs, education, and community building. We believe that his new administration can best make improvements in these areas with an approach focusing on public-private collaboration and outcomes—outcomes implemented through the best technology tools and measured with rigorous metrics. This type of approach would ideally work at scale, increase efficiency, and measurably improve opportunities and outcomes for citizens. It is a citizen-centric approach that the Governor-elect championed in a 2002 paper he wrote entitled “Rationalizing Health and Human Services.”

Information technology can support Baker’s vision by providing high-quality tools that are both efficient and transparent. Ideally, an IT strategy for the Commonwealth unites the best of three technical worlds:

  • The IT enterprise: providing a cohesive, interoperable solution that spans agencies and the systems that support them;
  • High-quality, consumer-grade technology: providing proven, familiar interfaces and systems;
  • The nascent startup community: providing open, extensible and agile innovations that, when taken advantage of, could benefit government.

For example, in the enterprise space, advancements in cloud technologies based on open standards provide efficiencies of scale as well as enhanced privacy, security, and reliability for enterprise IT infrastructure.  The cloud’s ability to manage data across discrete IT systems makes it possible to support common functions across previously disparate organizations. Cloud services can streamline care coordination, collaboration, relationship management, analysis and reporting within an extended organization like HHS, as well as across disparate systems that service common consumers – such as justice, education, workforce, health and communities. Developments in predictive analytics can provide real-time outcome measurement and personalize government services to each constituent.

The proliferation of consumer technologies, including smart phones, tablets, commodity devices commonly called “the Internet of Things” and applications will engage citizens in multiple ways, including appointment alerts, medication reminders, school progress, assistance to enroll in programs and services, job search, and job training supports.

It is clear that there are opportunities in government IT for new technologies and approaches—technologies that originate from the startup and civic technology space that foster agility, transparency and trust in previously unforeseen ways. The IT industry will play an important role here by supporting partnerships between the business and civic technology groups in our communities, as well as supporting the continued growth of the innovation sector, especially by making it more accessible and expanding it to underserved areas.

The state should expect partnership and accountability from the IT industry. At the same time, it should thoughtfully consider what capacities are necessary to comprehensively manage the government IT enterprise – from infrastructure, to large agency-specific systems, to shared services that cross systems, to partnerships with civic technology communities to spur innovation.

Massachusetts received a B- in the 2014 Digital States Survey. Technology can be a catalyst to improving outcomes. However, if technology is poorly implemented, it can be an impediment to success, or the cause of operational failures. The Massachusetts Health Connector is a case in point. Much has been written on this, including the review Microsoft authored at the request of the Patrick Administration. Going forward, the focus should be to ensure that pitfalls aren’t systemic, or repeated, and should emphasize policy and information technology oversight where there previously had been a breakdown across multiple agencies.

Similar attention should be placed on the lifecycle of IT within the state—with a clear strategy from vision to execution including:

  • Use cases and product planning: What is the proposed value of the technology? What problems are solved? How will it benefit the user?
  • Contingencies and fall-back plans: What is the backup plan should the technology not be implemented as promised?
  • Buy vs. build analysis: Is it cheaper to buy off the shelf or build a custom solution?
  • Comparison of best practices in other markets: How have other entities (including private sector) best implemented solutions? What can you learn from entities like the federal project 18F or the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service?
  • Compatibility of implementation with technology standards: how interoperable is the approach? What hooks are available for other technologies, including startups, to link into the implementation?

Finally, accountability to the end user should be prioritized. In the case of the Massachusetts Health Connector, this required providing a “user friendly” application, to encourage and expedite the selection of insurance, and recognition that system failure created risks that consumers would lose coverage and the state could incur additional IT and Medicaid costs.

State information technology leaders have an increasingly complex job. They must manage large enterprise implementations, enable consumer services and foster a culture of innovation to continuously improve the “product.” Similar challenges face IT leaders in other industries, such as health care. What is clear is that the success of health, government, education, and other enterprises serving these same consumers—the citizens of Massachusetts—is increasingly dependent on IT leaders and systems achieving high performance.

We look forward to partnering with the Baker administration in helping the state to deliver top notch services to its citizens while delivering on the Governor-Elect’s promise to improve jobs, education and the well-being of citizens and their communities.

William O’Leary
is Senior Director and Chief Health Policy
Officer for Microsoft, Health and Life Sciences. O’Leary is the
former Secretary of Health and Human Services for the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Cathy Wissink
is Director of Technology & Civic Engagement
for Microsoft in Boston.


Microsoft New England’s Best Blogs of 2014


As the sun sets on another year, it’s time to look back and reflect on 2014. Here at Microsoft New England, we ramped up our blog efforts and are excited to share our top 10 picks of 2014! Enjoy and see you in 2015.

January 2014
Bridging Tradition, Technology and City Boundaries: A Call to Boston and Cambridge’s New Leaders
By: Annmarie Levins

February 2014
Local Leaders Welcome Microsoft’s New CEO, Satya Nadella
By: Lauren Metter

February 2014
CodeAcross 2014 with Code for Boston: Civic Hacking Our Way to a Better City
By: Cathy Wissink

March 2014
Eight-year-old Builds Windows Phone App; Watches Spongebob
By: Lauren Metter

March 2014
Microsoft Researcher, MIT and Brandeis Alum Leslie Lamport Receives Turing Award
By: Lauren Metter

March 2014
Of the People, By the People, for the People: Convening the Community on Civic Technology
By: Cathy Wissink

May 2014
Boston Startup LeanBox Makes Vending Machines a Healthy Venture
By: Lauren Metter

June 2014
Microsoft Named Best Place to Work by Boston Business Journal
By: Craig Hodges

August 2014
Microsoft New York Fellows Do Boston, Win HubHacks Challenge
By: Lauren Metter

August 2014
United Way’s Skype Surprise of a Lifetime
By: Dave Johnson

September 2014
The One Fund Center — Using tech innovatively to help survivors health
By: Cathy Wissink

September 2014
TEALS Expands in Massachusetts and Beyond
By: Aimee Sprung

October 2014
Kinems: Personalized Kinect-based Learning Games for Children with Learning Disabilities
By: Aimee Sprung & Lauren Metter

November 2014
Congrats to the winners of the first MassChallenge Civic Tech Sidecar prize sponsored by Microsoft: Lengio and Kinems
By: Aimee Sprung

November 2014
Looking Back: A Year of Civic Engagement in Boston
By: Cathy Wissink

December 2014
Q&A with NFTE New England: Changing the World One Young Entrepreneur at a Time
By: MSNE Staff

December 2014
CS Teacher Series, featuring
Alfred Thompson: The Importance of Computer Science
Adam Newall: How Computer Science Has Changed my Classroom
Scott Foster: Computer Science in East Boston By Scott Foster
Kelly Powers: What Teaching CS Means to Me

December 2014
CS Series: An Hour of Code Can Inspire a Lifetime of Creativity
By: Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA – 4) | December 2014



Merging multiple IT services into one

One of the things I love most about Boston is its commitment to helping others; our city is home to a number of non-profit and community improvement organizations that work locally, nationally and globally. While we often focus on the non-profit nature of these organizations, it’s easy to overlook that these groups operate like a business, just as any for-profit company. And that means they face the same business and IT challenges as any other company, often with the added layer of lower operating budgets and increased scrutiny over spending that isn’t directly related to their non-profit mission. One of these challenges involves integrating different IT environments into one platform following acquisitions.

Merging_multiple_IT_services_into_one copyFHI 360, a non-profit human development organization with an office in Watertown and operating in more than 60 countries, faced this exact challenge when an acquisition left it with two different productivity services – one cloud-based, one on-premise. Like many businesses in today’s global economy, FHI 360 was looking to improve collaboration among multinational project groups and increase productivity whether in the office or the field. To solve these needs, its IT department sought a single cloud-based productivity suite for all of its 4,300 employees.

When your own business is looking to merge divergent IT systems to one platform it’s important to take into account all the various environments and methods your employees work, to guarantee success and reduce worker frustration. FHI 360 did this by activating employee focus groups, which helped compile a list of 150 requirements across email, instant messaging, web conferencing and document collaboration. Defining these parameters early on allows IT decision makers to objectively evaluate each potential system. Additionally, a unifying platform will meet the various security and flexibility needs of your IT department without unnecessary complexity.

For its migration, FHI 360 deployed Microsoft Office 365, which offered the feature-rich productivity tools it was looking for, with the cost savings and flexibility of the cloud. Additionally, FHI 360 was able to utilize a local Microsoft partner, who provided advanced tools and support to simplify the migration process, and engaged with a Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace partner to develop a global instructor-led training for employees. All while reducing its IT costs and improving productivity, important factors for any business – non-profit and for-profit.

Visit Microsoft’s Office 365 for Business page to see how our cloud productivity suite can help you improve productivity and then use Pinpoint to find a local Microsoft partner who can help you streamline your operations under a single system.

Q&A with Mayor Joe Curtatone on Somerville’s Call to Green Tech Innovators

Mayor Curtatone announcing another sustainability initiative: the Orange Line T-Stop opening at Assembly Row in September, which is expected to provide sustainable transportation to 5,000 riders daily.

Mayor Curtatone announcing another sustainability initiative: the Orange Line T-Stop opening at Assembly Row in September, which is expected to provide sustainable transportation to 5,000 riders daily.

MSNE: What is the Somerville Green Tech Program?

Curtatone-3Mayor Curtatone: We’re asking green tech innovators to give the City their best product pitch. Entrepreneurs are developing services and products that could help people and organizations reduce their carbon footprint, decrease energy use and generally act kinder to the planet, but at some point they need to pilot their ideas. We want to be first in line to give those ideas a shot, so we released an official request for information asking green tech entrepreneurs to fill us in on what they’re working on.

MSNE: How can green tech companies get involved?

Mayor Curtatone: All they need to do is fill out a simple online survey at just describe the technology you’re working on, send us some links to demo or informational materials, and tell us why the City of Somerville would be a good customer or test case for the technology. Responses are due by the end of the day on Monday, Dec. 1.

MSNE: What will Somerville do with the information submitted through the survey?

Mayor Curtatone: The information we get will be used to shape a new Green Tech Program that we’ll detail early next year as part of our goal to become carbon neutral by 2050. We know our carbon neutral goal is ambitious and that it will take some smart, outside-the-box innovations to help get us there. We hope this program will help us make progress toward that goal, while also supporting emerging green tech companies. We’re interested in doing social good and creating profitable, sustainable economies—those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, they are interdependent.

MNE: Why shoot for carbon neutrality by 2050?

Mayor Curtatone: Sustainability and environmental stewardship are deeply held values of this community, and anyone paying honest attention to climate change and the state of national politics knows three things: we don’t have time to waste, we must set ambitious goals if we truly aim to slow climate change, and cities must help lead the way if we are to succeed in these goals as a nation. We also are deeply aware of our responsibility to current and future generations in everything we do. These values are all codified in our 20-year comprehensive plan, SomerVision, which was created after two years of intensive community engagement. And in Somerville, we don’t consider community plans documents that should just gather dust. We act on them. We hope the green tech community will act with us on this effort too.


Looking Back: A Year of Civic Engagement in Boston

Cathy-Wissink-300x300It feels like just yesterday that I arrived in Boston, having taken on a new role for the company at Microsoft New England. The loosely-defined role of “civic engagement” was not just new to me—it was a net-new role to the company and I was the first to take on this job. Where would the job go? Where would we focus? What could we accomplish?

A year in, it’s hard to imagine not having a civic engagement team in the city. There’s a thirst in the community to determine the role that technology can play in areas like education, citizen services, as well as government transparency and efficiency. At the same point, it’s been crucial to thoughtfully consider all potential solutions to civic challenges, which may—or may not—include a technology option.

You may recall from our introductory post announcing the MIPC-NE and my role that we had three goals:

  • Connecting the region’s tech/business/academic/government stakeholders in ways that complement and extend the work of others;
  • Catalyzing important technology and public policy discussions about issues that have a direct impact on this region’s economy; and
  • Contributing more directly to the health and vitality of the local technology community and broader regional economic development opportunities.

We’ve kept busy this last year, trying to remain true to the “three C’s”, as the team calls them. To that end, here are some highlights of our work:

CodeAcross 2014 with Code for Boston

(L-R) Ken Chan (Microsoft), Sam Berg, Jared Kirschner, Fatima Sarah Khalid (Microsoft), and Andrew Arace at HubHacks!

  • We were also asked to contribute to a number of events demonstrating Microsoft’s role—and responsibilities—at the intersection of technology, business and policy, including:
  • Participating in District Hall’s Innovation and the City event as an “anchor institution”.

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke on a panel about anchor organizations at Innovation and the City.

TEALS helps CRLS expand CS offerings.

With all this work, we’ve been fortunate to partner with a great number of organizations, government entities and individuals during this year, all of whom share a desire to make this a great place to live, work and connect.

What’s next for the Civic Engagement team in Boston? We’ll continue to stock of what we’ve done, what worked (and didn’t); we’ll keep the conversation going with our constituents and partners to see where Microsoft can best contribute, and we’ll keep you involved as well. Thank you for your engagement and feedback—we look forward to the next year!

A Conversation on Civic Tech: Urban Infrastructures for Public Health


In October, Microsoft was honored to host the second annual Hacking Pediatrics event. The range of innovative ideas that came out of the event was inspiring: from end-to-end childhood vaccine management to accurate, rapid fabrication of custom tracheostomy tubes for children to better ways to manage asthma and monitor use of inhalers. How can we apply the creativity, collaboration and innovation that all come together at a hackathon to public health?

While data and technology play a key role in tracking the flu and assisting collaboration among researchers and physicians, technology can also be a useful tool in driving wellness and even economic growth in Boston. Hosted by Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy Center – New England and the Venture Café Foundation at District Hall on December 3 (5:30PM – 7:30PM), this conversation on civic technology aims to explore how a city can take an innovative look at public health.

At the fourth in the series of conversations on civic tech, we plan to address the following issues:

  • What role does public health play in the innovation economy in Boston through job creation and industry innovation?
  • How can collection and analysis of data improve services for citizens and patients?
  • What technology exists today to collect, analyze or visualize public health data? And what other technologies do we need?
  • How does city infrastructure – signage and bike paths – enable public health and wellness?

We are bringing together people from various parts of the public and private communities to spark the conversation and then invite the attendees to engage in the discussion. Panelists include:

  • Maia Majumder, Engineering Systems PhD Student – MIT & Computational Epidemiology Research Fellow –
  • Dr. Snehal Shah, Director of Research and Evaluation – Boston Public Health Commission & Pediatrician – Boston Medical Center
  • Ann Polaneczky, Project Engineer & Project Manager, Hopital Universitaire de Mirebalais, Haiti – Partners in Health
  • Dr. Anne Lusk, Research Scientist – Harvard School of Public Health
  • Nicole Fichera, General Manager – District Hall (moderator)

Register today!

Our Takeaways from Innovation and the City

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke at Innovation and the City.

Our own Cathy Wissink (second from the left) spoke on a panel about anchor organizations at Innovation and the City.

There’s a lot of talk today about “innovative cities”. But what exactly are they? What are the qualities of an innovative city? How can those qualities be reproduced in other cities? And how does a city ensure that everyone in the community benefits from that innovation and economic benefit?

These questions drove the Venture Café Foundation to host the Second Innovation and the City Conference last week at District Hall. The event convened scholars, policy makers, and practitioners to discuss the strategies, opportunities and drawbacks associated with innovation-based urban economic development, and included participants from numerous cities, including Boston, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee, among others. I was honored to participate in the event for a second time, and also had the pleasure of participating in the panel on anchor organizations.

Given the diversity of participants and opinions, as well as the common goal of understanding innovative cities, there was energetic discussion during the panels, from the audience, and during the breaks. There’s no definitive path to creating an innovative city, since so much depends on the community make up, history, civic participation and finances of a given city, but there were overarching themes that emerged over the day and a half:

  1. Innovation in a city requires openness. This can be translated a number of ways, but as I noted during my panel, it boils down to ensuring the system—whether that’s a city or another institution—has the ability to take in new ideas and integrate them into their innovation model.
  2. Innovation also requires diversity. This means inclusiveness across the community as well as diversity of approach, organizations, policies and community engagement.
  3. Organizations who want to be part of the innovation conversation need to be an engaged element of the community. It’s not enough to do this work remotely, or halfway.
  4. Education is the foundation to an innovative city. Time and again, panelists and audience members noted that without an educational system equipped to foster critical thinking and skills development necessary for an innovative economy, other tactics would only bring a city so far along the innovation spectrum.
  5. Sharing best practices is key. While each city will vary in how it tackles the innovation question due to its unique makeup, there is much to be learned from the range of civic stakeholders who drive this in their respective cities.

I came away energized by the thoughtful and passionate discussions I had individually, as well as within the panels. Congratulations to the Venture Café Foundation for convening and catalyzing such a crucial discussion.

Kendall Square EatUp Celebrates Eating Local

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The Microsoft New England team can’t wait to attend the Kendall Square Association’s Kendall Square EatUp tonight! Featuring bites from more than 25 of our favorite restaurants and neighbors in Kendall Square, tonight promises to bring together all kinds of good food and good people in celebration of eating local.

And beyond that, ticket sales are going directly to the Kendall Square Association, to help support their mission of improving, protecting, and promoting Kendall Square. Now that’s a cause we will always get behind!

Tickets include:

  • Unlimited food and beverage samplings from Cambridge’s best kitchens.
  • Live cooking demos from Chef William Kovel (Catalyst) and Chef Michael Leviton (Area Four) and the chefs at West Bridge.
  • “The Science of Food” with interactive demos and exhibits, including a cheese making demo from Fiore di Nonno, edible cocktails and a demo on spherification from Gelology, a pepper eating contest with MexiCali Burrito Co., bee culture with Follow the Honey, and app-controlled mini-farm pods with Grove Labs.

Some of the participating Kendall Square restaurants include:

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A big thank you to the Kendall Square Association for organizing such a special event, and for all that you do for our neighborhood. We’ll see you there tonight!

Tickets are available for tonight’s event here:

United Way’s Skype Surprise of a Lifetime


In the offices of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley, it was whispered about, hoped for, tantalized—but none of us could ever see a way to do it. How could we capture the moment.

Every year, United Way gives out Marian L. Heard Scholarships to a selection of incoming college students from Boston, through the Merrimack Valley. The scholarship money is pivotal for these kids, most of whom are the first in their family to go to college. It’s a big deal and we always hear after-the-fact that the recipients go crazy when they learn they get the scholarship. (As an added benefit, MLH scholars are matched with e-coaches, community volunteers who offer guidance and encouragement through the students’ new college experience.) That was the moment.

How could we find a way to see these kids’ reactions in real-time? That was the Golden Ticket. Some ideas included conference calls and a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-like door-to-door surprise, but were quickly dismissed because of either lack of emotional heft or logistical impossibility.

Finally the solution presented itself: Skype. And that led us to our pals at Microsoft New England. After a flurry of emails, a plan crystallized: we would tell the scholarship candidates they needed to Skype us for one final round of interviews before a decision could be made. Then, we’d drop the shocker on them, that they had actually already been selected for the scholarship.

Granted, this bit of subterfuge may have been stressful for the scholars, but we were confident the payoff would be worth it. And it was. You couldn’t script this stuff any better. Through the course of the afternoon, United Way staff, set up expertly in one of the NERD Center conference rooms dialed up the students, built up the suspense then hit them with some of the best news of their young lives. Reactions varied from boisterous laughter to stunned disbelief to grateful weeping. But, we won’t spoil it for you. Take a peek at the video and see for yourself.

So big thanks to the NERD Center (and super-tech Kevin McPherson in particular) for setting up the conferences and processing the video footage. What came out of that room that day was an experience no one will forget.