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Monday, January 24th, 2011

Hello, and welcome to the partial list of project pages for the UIUC engagement with Opal’s House in East St. Louis, IL.  For their official website, please visit

Final Recommendations

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Here is a list of items we wish we would have addressed in more depth, had we had more time.  Hopefully many of these issues can be resolved soon; for the rest of these, future groups working with Opal’s House should take them into consideration.


  • Purchase and install a new printer for upstairs, and new printhead for printer downstairs
  • Making available USBs for the women who stay at Opal’s House
  • Ensuring that the 5.2 version of the VPN for InfoNets is installed
  • Ensuring audio functions for Staff 2 computer.  Attempt was made to install audio driver on Staff 2 computer, but may have been unsuccessful


  • Computer training for the staff at Opal’s House, as well as Essie
  • A How-To Computer Maintenance manual

Interior Decoration:

  • Repainting the room
  • Carving out a more well-defined space for the children’s art therapy

The Final Trip and New Computer Lab!

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Prepared with seven computers, two beautifully decorated desks, mice, keyboards, homemade cables, a WordPress tutorial, resource guide and female jacks, we traveled to East St. Louis Friday morning excited to see Essie and get our new lab in place. A representative from Charter, the new ISP for Opal’s House, was scheduled to arrive between one and three, so we arrived a little after one. After unloading the computers and desks, we prepared the space for the Charter rep.’s arrival and investigated the network wiring situation. Our first mission was to install the female jacks and outlets, but before that could start we had to consolidate the cables into the spot where the outlet would go.  Martin sawed a small hole in the ceiling, and with teamwork, long arms, and a coat hanger we were able to gather together cables and attach the female jacks. Once the female jacks were attached, we plugged in the cables to the outlet, and screwed the outlet into the ceiling. The next step was to identify and label the cables and test their connectivity. We found that weak connections were easily fixed by re-clamping the female jacks. By the end of the day, the Charter rep. announced that Opal’s House was connected to the Internet, and we had just enough time to set up half of the computers. We left Opal’s House knowing that we’d return in the morning to an Internet connection and working cables. Yet the lighting and look of the space still concerned us; one of our design goals had been to improve the lighting and decor. That night we discussed buying mousepads, lights, and picture hooks and made up a shopping list.

Essie greeted us at nine the next morning and we went immediately to work setting up the final computers. We all juggled various roles, though Katrina quickly earned the name “Susie Spotless” because she tirelessly cleaned and organized the space and computers throughout the day. While we were able to successfully set up the computers and connect to the Internet, two computer issues emerged during the day: 1) installing VPN software on Essie’s new office and intake computers so that she could access Infonets, an online collection system for victim service providers, and 2) hooking the printer up to the network. The VPN software did not seem to be compatible with Windows XP and Service Pack 3 on both computers, though we were eventually able to install the software on Essie’s office computer. DoMonique and Emily worked hard to fix the printer, which wasn’t working due to a “ink jet error.” Based on some online research, they even cleaned the finicky printer with bottled water and coffee filters, but the printer still refused to work. We concluded that buying a new printhead was the most likely solution.

Although the VPN software and printer issues were frustrating, one of the highlights of the day was the WordPress tutorial with Essie. After setting up a new organizational email address through Gmail and learning about some of the WordPress basics, Essie enthusiastically set to work on a new post. By the end of the day, she’d already updated the site with news from her newsletter!

We were also able to improve the look of the space with new mousepads, picture hooks and track lighting for the client computers and art space. Martin purchased the items and showed us how to attach the track lighting, and George, Essie’s husband, was even inspired to help us drill holes for the picture hooks!  By the end of the day, the only remaining issues were the installation of the VPN software on the intake computer (upstairs) and the printer, which can’t join the network until the printhead is replaced. Other than those remaining issues, we said goodbye to Essie satisfied with the lab and feeling like we’d met the priorities of Opal’s House.

A last-minute hiccup

Monday, December 6th, 2010

As we were preparing our seven computers for our final trip to ESL, we kept an inventory to make sure we completed each step of installation on each computer. By Thanksgiving we had three computers completed finished and four with only a few more applications to install. However, when we came into class Nov. 30 to finish up the last application installs, one of the computers we designated to be a client computer presented an error message and refused to load Windows. After some troubleshooting, we decided it was most likely a hard drive problem and we replaced the hard drive. A bit of a setback, but definitely still manageable.

Since the new hard drive was not a Carle computer, our first step was to wipe it. The DBAN software was not responding, so we tried HD Sanitizer instead. After two hours with little progress and another driver error message, we decided that maybe we chose a faulty hard drive. We switched it out for a new one and started HD Sanitizer once again.

When Whitney came back to the lab the next day, HD Sanitizer was still running with little success. That afternoon, our group tried three more hard drives before determining that it was most likely not a hard drive issue. We contacted Martin who agreed to meet us the next day to help us select a different computer to start anew.

On Thursday, Dec. 2 (the day before leaving for ESL), we met with Martin, picked out a new computer, found a hard drive that had already been wiped, and began installing Windows  XP. Several hours later, I received a call from Whitney, who had been installing Windows, saying that the computer would not connect to the network. After a couple hours of troubleshooting and some help of a classmate, I was able to determine that the reason the computer was not recognizing the network was that it was missing many essential drivers. I downloaded the drivers onto a flash drive, which I then transferred over to what affectionately became known as “the naughty computer.”

After approximately 130 Windows security updates and a couple hours of application installs, the naughty computer was finally up to snuff for the trip the following day.

Second East St. Louis Visit

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

For trip number 2, we arrived at Eagle’s Nest in the early afternoon, and after having lunch we worked on the website for Opal’s House.  We picked out a nice-looking theme, thanks to Martin and then Essie came to meet us there.  Essie liked what she saw of the website, and she gave us more information, such as updated phone numbers, to put on there.  Afterward we went to Opal’s House to have another look at the basement area the majority of the computers were going to be put.

After being in the basement for a little while considering our options in terms of space, Essie came down to us with an announcement.  “Alright girls, change of plans,” and Essie ushered us up to meet Braden and Jayden, two little boys who were going to be our new best friends for the rest of the day there. Opal’s House had just had a new family come in that day, and while the mother was being settled in, Braden and Jayden were getting antsy to say the least.  Braden and Jayden were wonderful kids, with more than their share of curiosity and energy, so by late afternoon Emily and I had fit in our workout for the day. We joined again with Martin and the rest of the group, and made our way to Old Country Buffet.

After dinner, the entire group decided to go to the City Museum, which speaking for myself, was some of the most fun I have had in a long time. It felt like a well-timed bonding activity for the entire class, and by the time we got in the van home, I was a little bit bruised, a little sweaty, and wanting to go back so that I could go through more tunnels.

Getting an early start the next day, Emily and I returned to Opal’s House.  We were charged with a number of tasks to be done before we left: 1) replace the doorbell on the rear entrance, 2) replace a floorboard, and 3) test network cables.  Luckily Emily and I were no strangers to power tools, but it definitely ended up being a collaborative activity. It felt good to successfully problem solve, and Emily and I acted like we had won the lottery after finally getting the doorbell working.  We learned that we needed to have female jacks from doing the network cable testing, for the purpose of security and simplicity.  Being able to spend more time in Opal’s House helped to solidify our vision for the space, and overall it was a productive and awesome trip.

Materials for Final Trip

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

For our final trip, we will be bringing:

-2 desks (3 ft 6″ long and 2 ft 6″ wide)

-7 computers

-1 monitor

-4 keyboards/4 mice (1 for Essie’s office computer, 3 for spare)

-6 network cables

-3 female jacks, and accompanying supplies

Website Upgrade

Monday, November 15th, 2010

One of Essie’s highest priorities for us was to update her website.  The current website had wrong phone numbers and no way for Essie to update or maintain it.  With Martin’s suggestion, we developed a WordPress website, which would allow Essie easy access to maintenance.  Since WordPress is originally designed to create blogs, this would also allow Essie to post updates on the main page in efforts to keep the website fresh and active.

Martin provided us with access to the existing files for the original site as well as a WordPress space to get us started, and then we went to work transferring the information.  WordPress operates through “Themes” which determine the appearance of and features included on the site.  Choosing a theme that met the needs for our new site proved to be fairly challenging, but once we settled on one, things came together fairly quickly.  The most difficult part of our task proved to be maintaining the header for the website, to include the image (which was important to Essie) and the title and subtitle from the original site.  However, with some fancy Photoshop work, we managed to create a banner that looked very similar to the original.

Overall, we are very satisfied with the new site.  We think that although it doesn’t look exactly like original site, we were able to capture the essence of it.  The new site will also appropriately allow the updating capabilities that Essie needed.

Below is the URL for the AWESOME new site:

First East St. Louis Visit: Day 2

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

On Saturday we returned to Opal’s House to help Essie and become more familiar with the space.  Essie put us to work organizing a huge collection of clothing donations that had been donated to her over the course of several years.  We went through the bags and divided clothes into several categories: interview clothes, children’s clothing, winter clothing, and clothing to be donated.  All of the donated clothes would be sent to another non-profit that has worked with and helped Essie in the past; this reciprocal relationship was more proof of the strong community connections that exist in ESL.

During our sorting we were able to talk with Kiki, a staff member of Opal’s House.  She clarified a lot of details that helped us gain a better view of Opal’s House as a collaborative space.  She explained that job hunting is one of the first and main goals of most of the clients, not only out of necessity, but to keep the clients focused, hopeful, and goal-oriented while going through such a traumatic time.  We also learned more about the rules, such as women giving up their cell phones for the first two weeks of their stay.  This brings into question whether this rule will also apply to email and social networking sites, which is something we will need to discuss with Essie and will be more difficult to enforce.  This may be one of the reasons Essie asked that the computer screens face the staff desks so that they might be able to monitor computer use.

One of the highlights of the day was getting a tour of the house.  Essie and the various people who have helped to develop Opal’s House have done an amazing job turning the house into a beautiful, welcoming space.  DoMonique articulated it best when she observed that the space is filled with love.  It seems as though most of the decorations were donations; which is another testament to the dedication and hard work that have been poured into Opal’s House by Essie and others.

At this point most of our planning has turned to helping to decorate the space so that it fits the spirit of the rest of the house.  The client computers currently share a desk, which give the users very little desk space.  We’d like to replace the desk, as well as help Essie hang the artwork from art therapy sessions on the wall.  We also hope to create a resource library, which could include employment resources, like a notebook of sample cover letters, resumes, and job websites, as well as a notebook about privacy and safety on the Internet.

First East St. Louis Visit: Day 1

Monday, October 11th, 2010

On September 10, 2010, a classful of hopeful 451ers traveled south to meet the community partners we would be working with throughout the semester.  Our group traveled in what was affectionately deemed the VIP Lounge, behind the Big White Bus, and discussed a multitude of issues ranging from the wonders of Anne Lamott, foot-high pie, adventures in Africa, tricky concept papers, and Opal’s House.

After a long day of visits and tours of ESL, we finally pulled up to Opal’s House and met our community partner Essie Calhoun.  Upon entering the building, all of us were struck at how inviting and homey it felt.  This was not just a shelter, but a home. Essie gave us a brief history of Opal’s House before leading us downstairs to the “computer lab.”  Currently the space was equipped with five non-working, large, old computers, several large desks, a large table, and piles of stuff.  Not a very collaborative working atmosphere.  Our eyes were swimming, however, with all the possibilities.  We gave our suggestions for the space, and may have gotten in a bit over our heads.  Whitney was able to rein us back in by focusing on Essie’s three top priorities, which were:

1. Updating the website

2. Getting 6-7 working computers

3. Creating a functional space

After saying our goodbyes, we called it a day.

Opal’s House Measurements

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

How’s everything going? Fine I trust, I’m sure by now you are preparing for the holidays and a little R & R! I was wondering if by chance, you still have the measurements for Opal’s House? I need them to complete some forms for the government and can’t find the email that I sent to you with them. If you do, would you send them to me. Well, have a wonderful holiday and I will be anxiously waiting to talk with you the first of the year.



Hi Essie,

The measurements you need are as follows:

First Floor, Front to Back =690 Inches (57 Feet, 6 Inches)
Basement, Top to Botton = 93 Inches ( 7 Feet, 9 Inches)

Remember your best contact for further communications is Paul Adams, Director of Prarienet. He will be the most effective at coordinating the installation of the lab and checking the availability of volunteers when Opal’s House is ready. That will be good news if it is ready by the beginning of the New Year.

We wish the best for you, your family, Opal’s House, and the greater E. St. Louis community.