“I really believe in the notion of paying forward,” said Josh Shuminsky, founder of Solutions Afoot, a Winston-Salem-based LLC specializing in database development. “We had the technology, and it’s great to be able to use it for a good cause.”
That cause is free online classes for displaced students from Ukraine, taught by qualified volunteer instructors.
“Last year we were approached by a company looking for developers to develop applications for Ukrainian refugees,” said Shuminsky. “We were presented with helping Ukraine refugee children be able to continue their learning after their schools were destroyed. This seemed like a no-brainer for us, so we jumped on it, and it’s now being used by refugee kids who enroll in online classes, or are enrolled by their parents, and the volunteers who teach them long distance.”
In a phone interview, Shuminsky and Solutions Afoot partner and chief knowledge officer Chris Vaughan said these classes began mid-March.
“We are not the ones running the classes,” said Vaughan. “We created the environment for the virtual classrooms. We partnered with a company called Caspio.”
Founded in 2003 and headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, Caspio is an American software company with offices in Kraków, Valencia, Makati City in the Philippines, and the Dnipropetrovsk Region of Ukraine. It specializes in database-centric web and custom cloud applications, with an emphasis on reducing development time and cost.
“They had a history in Ukraine,” said Vaughan, “so the crisis there really hit home for them. They put out an offer to companies based in or doing work for Ukraine, saying Caspio would provide free hosting through their platform. As we’re a gold partner with Caspio, they approached us to see if we wanted to develop something. They ended up introducing us to UA English Club.”
UA English Club is a program of Ukrainian American House (uahouse.org), a Sacramento-based nonprofit founded in 2018 to raise awareness of and increase support for Ukraine, ensure stable delivery of humanitarian aid to that county, and support Ukrainian refugees in the United States.
“They’re a not-for-profit that had been running classes using Zoom,” said Vaughan. “They’d been having to set up everything manually, so we offered to donate our time to help build the application on the Caspio platform, so that the students could easily get access to the volunteers, and the volunteers could easily get access to creating classes for the students.”
Ever since Solutions Afoot partnered with Caspio, the two companies have been discussing the Ukrainian crisis.
“When Caspio first approached us,” said Vaughan, “they really were like, hey, do you want to create anything to help companies in Ukraine? And we said sure, we’re happy to do anything to help and to build an application for them. We asked them what they had in mind, and they presented us with two or three different options. I am a former teacher of mathematics, so when they talked about something to help displaced students, Josh and I immediately realized that’s what we wanted to work on.”
Vaughan graduated from Mount Tabor High School and has a BA in Communications and an MBA from Wake Forest. Shuminsky graduated from Florida State but is a longtime Winston resident who hosts the Small Business Spotlight Show at WTOB 980AM & 96.7 FM Radio.
“We’re both out of Winston-Salem,” said Vaughan, “where Josh created Solutions Afoot in 2017. He and I used to work strategically on some projects. At the beginning of 2022, I bought in to become a partner of the company and we have been growing Solutions Afoot since then. Josh had been doing much of the work prior to that, but I’d done some work with him and he had a couple of other people with him, but since we partnered up, we brought in another partner named Nike Roach. He helps run the marketing side of our team. With our combined efforts, we’ve grown from Josh and I doing a lot of coding to 13 people that are working with us on a part-time to full-time range.”
Both men stressed that not only Caspio and Ukrainian American House, but also a third company has been crucial to the partnership. That’s Vonage, the cloud communications company based in Holmdel, N.J., which provided the Application Programming Interface (API).
“They have video messaging software and were willing to provide API access and usage so that the meetings could be run online,” said Vaughan. Shuminsky offered another detail regarding Vonage and its foundation.
“They provided the credits for the application to be used so that all the videos are being brought to the UA English Club for free through their foundation’s donation. Everything involved in the development of this, from the hosting to the API usage to the development of the application, was all donated.”
Shuminsky and Vaughan want all interested parties to be aware of what they have scheduled for Wednesday, April 26.
“The companies that are part of this, along with the UA English Club, are doing a live webinar at 11 a.m. eastern on that date,” said Shuminsky, “as a kind of demo and walk-through and to answer questions about this project.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.
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