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How one nonprofit turned a golf course into a ‘no-fail’ job training program

Shawn Bennett was familiar with the feeling of failure when he was younger. Wrestling with anxiety and substance abuse, he had repeated run-ins with the law – and lacked the support needed to put his life on track.

“I was a self-run riot on cruise control to somewhere no one wanted to be,” is how he described his life after spending time in prison for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

His situation was like many that John Schmidt, a corporate executive, had in mind when he and other founders – committed members of their community looking for solutions for people living in poverty – created Riverview Gardens. This unusual “no-fail” job training program in Appleton, Wisconsin, has helped more than 1,200 people, including Bennett, regain their footing and reclaim their lives. Schmidt, who has also served for years on the board of a local homeless shelter, knows any of us could face poverty, and even homelessness, because of bad luck and without a support system.

“There’s a very fine line today between the haves and have-nots,” says Schmidt. “There’s oftentimes this perception that there’s something wrong with someone who might be homeless. But most times, these are everyday people whose luck wasn’t quite as good as somebody else’s luck in life.”

The community center at Riverview Gardens, which was formerly a country club. This nonprofit program is supported in part by Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin, a civic program that fosters greater economic opportunity and job creation in local communities across the country.

Riverview Gardens is situated on 72 bucolic acres of a former country club and golf course along the Fox River in Appleton, in the northeastern part of the state. Appleton has historically been known for its paper mills. It also has a legacy of firsts: The first electricity for sale came from a hydroelectric plant built by a paper company executive in the 1880s. It’s also home to the first telephone system in the country and the first electric trolley system.

In another kind of first, Schmidt and the founding members converted the Riverview Country Club into Riverview Gardens. This private country club, Wisconsin’s oldest, filed for bankruptcy in 2011.

a greenhouse
Lettuce is grown without soil in the pool at the former country club.

About 25 acres of the site are used for the certified organic farming of fruits and vegetables including beets, potatoes, carrots, herbs, tomatoes, onions and kale. There are 20 passive solar greenhouses also on site. The country club pool has gone from a place for swimming laps to growing lettuce without soil.

The hydroponic greenhouse is often tended to by individuals who are veterans who may have post-traumatic stress disorder or are experiencing homelessness.  They find it a more calming environment, in contrast to the noise and activity of the farm.

This nonprofit program is supported in part by Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin, a civic program that fosters greater economic opportunity and job creation in local communities across the country, particularly in those outside major metropolitan centers. Appleton, with a population of about 75,000, is one of those communities, as is Green Bay, which is about 30 miles away.

Now crop land, Riverview Gardens was once home to a golf course and country club.

TechSpark is assisting Riverview Gardens in three areas. First, it provides technology that is being used in the hydroponics greenhouse to monitor and adjust water temperature, pH balance and nutrient levels in the pool. That should help to reduce the grow time. The technology is already making a difference, providing a more consistent harvest.

Second, Microsoft’s FarmBeats initiative is being employed. FarmBeats, also an AI for Earth feature project, uses ground-based sensors, Power BI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and TV white spaces (which leverage unused broadcasting frequencies to deliver broadband connectivity) to measure soil irrigation needs. It also helps determine the right time to apply fertilizer and other inputs, as well as how much to apply, to grow a more productive crop. Third, Microsoft is helping Riverview Gardens undergo a digital transformation. In the past, the organization has kept much of its data – records like the seed distribution log, grow crop log, even handwashing logs – on paper. Riverview Gardens is now moving some of it to electronics records for better efficiency.

Riverview Gardens took 25 acres of the former golf course and converted it to a rich growing environment for fruits and vegetables, as well as a growing environment for the people it serves.

With these tools, Riverview Gardens can increase its farm yields and raise more money from the sale of produce, which funds the program’s operations. These tools also help give the Riverview Gardens staff more time to spend with the people who need it: their clients.

The technology is “helping us understand our farming better, our water quality better, streamlining our business processes and taking a lot of variability out of the entire operation so that we can focus on the people that we’re serving, and not have to worry as much about other aspects of the business,” says Schmidt.

Photo of John Schmidt
John Schmidt, CEO of U.S. Venture, is among the founders of Riverview Gardens.

Those who participate in Riverview Gardens’ program also can work in the kitchen or otherwise help with setup at events at the club, now a community center. They also work to help clean Appleton’s downtown streets, early in the morning, after they’ve received training on equipment used for cleanup. Or they might do maintenance – such as painting, lawn care or snow removal – at other nonprofits and businesses in town.

Once participants complete 90 hours of work – known as ServiceWorks – along with ongoing counseling about job and life skills, Riverview Gardens helps them find – and keep – jobs by following their progress for three years.

“No matter how long it takes you to do 90 hours, whether that’s three weeks or three years, we will always accept you back into the program, and you will just continue where you left off,” says Pilar Martinez, the director of community engagement at Riverview Gardens.

Baked into Riverview Gardens’ recipe for success is its “no-fail” policy. Those who may have experienced roadblocks in the past are provided the tools and opportunities to not fail.

“’Success’ is a subjective term and can be different for many different people,” says Martinez. “We look at the resiliency of the people we serve and the barriers they overcome to move themselves forward.”

No matter how long it takes you to do 90 hours, whether that’s three weeks or three years, we will always accept you back into the program.

Shawn Bennett at Riverview Gardens’ Earn-A-Bike shop. Those going through Riverview Gardens’ program, as well as volunteers who help out on the farm, can earn a refurbished bike by working a certain number of hours.

For Bennett, “coming out of prison, not having any family – there was no real support, no real comfort,” he says. Bennett, 49, earned his high school equivalency diploma in prison, and is now working as a tech intern at Fox Valley Technical College, which serves about 50,000 students a year.

There, he has earned an associate degree in computer support, and is working on two other related degrees. He was awarded a Fox Valley Technical College Foundation scholarship for an essay about his personal story, something he wrote after going through Riverview Gardens five years ago.

“The sense of community at Riverview Gardens really helped me,” says Bennett. “To be in a place like this, it makes you feel like you’re welcome here. You’re part of something.”

Carl Gustavson says Riverview Gardens made a huge difference in his life.

Carl Gustavson, 29, is also among those who found success after going through a tough time. Things became difficult for him after moving to Nashville to pursue his dream of being a musician.

“I thought I was going to be like Woody Guthrie; he rode the rails and played his guitar for people,” says Gustavson. “I kind of had a romantic view of being a musician. But the reality is you can end up living in a tent, like I did, and just start feeling like you can’t do anything.”

Gustavson is grateful for the help he has received at Riverview Gardens.

“I was frustrated – by society and by my situation,” he says. “I didn’t think it was ever going to get better. I thought I was going to be stuck in a rut forever.”

After completing ServiceWorks, he was placed in a job doing detail work at a car dealership last spring. He feels optimistic about the future, and at some point, says he would like to use the bachelor’s degree in marketing he earned in 2011.

’Success’ is a subjective term and can be different for many different people,” says Martinez. “We look at the resiliency of the people we serve and the barriers they overcome to move themselves forward.

Much of the spark and enthusiasm at Riverview Gardens comes from its staff, led by executive director Cindy Sahotsky. She is often right in the middle of the action, no matter the job. When program participants visited Sacred Heart Parish to help remove large stones where a tree once stood, Sahotsky grabbed a shovel and plunged into the work at hand.

“She values people, and she expects that if she’s going to ask them to do something, she has to do her part,” says Laura Savoie, the parish’s business manager. “She pitches right in. And she does have high expectations. She expects you to do what you said that you’d do.”

Riverview Gardens executive director Cindy Sahotsky, front, center, wearing a dark sweatshirt, surrounded by some of the nonprofit’s staff, and Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin manager Michelle Schuler, front, third from left.

There is also a three-year “follow” program, based on findings that show individuals who have been incarcerated and are tracked for that length of time, with guidance and counseling, have the lowest recidivism rate, according to Sahotsky.

The follow program offers support with Riverview Gardens alumni who are now employees elsewhere, and also offers those employers guidance regarding behavior. For employees, it can include concerns like how to get a bus pass or feeling like a boss doesn’t like a worker. For employers, it might mean getting Riverview Gardens’ help coaching an employee who is taking breaks too often, or guiding an employee to be more patient in the workplace.

“The people we serve are individuals who have multiple barriers to long-term employment,” says Sahotsky. “Riverview Gardens really came to be to address that root cause of homelessness. It’s not because our folks can’t get jobs. It’s that they struggle to keep them because they have barriers.”

To be in a place like this, it makes you feel like you’re welcome here. You’re part of something.

Sahotsky, who also oversees the COTS homeless shelter in Appleton, the same place where Schmidt volunteers, is a former corporate human resources manager. She knows how such issues can loom large for the clients Riverview Gardens serves.

“Getting the job is just one part of that whole process,” says Sahotsky. “Keeping that job, getting to work, getting along with others – those are all part of it. Having expectations that people who have multiple barriers to stable employment are just going to get a job and keep it is probably not realistic. They’re going to need support to continue along in this process.”

The program is free to participants. In addition to the money raised from the sale of produce grown at Riverview Gardens, revenue from the rental of the country club building for special events is used to run Riverview Gardens.

Volunteers often work on the farm alongside program participants and staff. “We believe all people have value and contribute to the community in which they live,” is part of the nonprofit’s credo.

And not only are area employers involved in hiring Riverview Gardens’ clients, but many from throughout the state also come to work on the farm as volunteers. So do many residents of Appleton. It’s a true partnership. Working together in the fields, no one knows the other person’s title, or background, or standing. They just know one another by the smiles and first names they share.

“The partnerships Riverview Gardens has with employers and the larger community, to create economic opportunities for those who need them, is one of the things that makes it so effective,” says Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin manager Michelle Schuler. She also serves on this nonprofit’s board. “It’s a real pleasure for those of us at Microsoft to work with Riverview Gardens to help digitally transform their services, and as a result, even more lives.”

That transformation, Schmidt points out, is about recognizing that any of us could be in a position in which we need retraining or other support to help put our lives on better paths.

Top photo: Microsoft’s FarmBeats initiative is being employed at Riverview Gardens in Wisconsin. FarmBeats uses ground-based sensors, Power BI, the Internet of Things (IoT) and TV white spaces to measure soil irrigation needs. Follow @MSFTissues on Twitter. 

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Microsoft announces the public preview of Windows 10 IoT Core Services

Woman holding a Windows IoT device

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming how businesses gather and use data to develop competitive insights and create new financial opportunities. As IoT technology matures and our partners gain more experience, they are evolving their business models to increase the overall return on investment of their IoT solutions. This includes adding recurring revenue, enhancing security, and reducing support costs.

At Computex a few weeks back, we announced Windows 10 IoT Core Services, which enables our IoT partners to commercialize their solutions running on Windows 10 IoT Core. We are now excited to announce the public preview of this service along with details on purchasing and pricing. As described in our previous blog, IoT Core Services provides 10 years of operating system support along with services to manage device updates and assess device health.

Windows 10 IoT Core Services helps our partners monetize their solutions by creating a business model that provides ongoing long-term value. IoT devices are often in service for many years, so device support costs are important considerations that are either included in the initial purchase cost or often paid over time through a service contract. Windows 10 IoT Core Services provides our partners with the ability to distribute maintenance costs over the life of the device while also giving them tools to streamline and reduce maintenance overhead. This service can be purchased up front with a device or through a recurring subscription and provides 10 years of operating system support, including updates for security and reliability.

Device Update Center is part of the Windows Hardware Device Center and is used to create, control, and distribute device updates for the OS, custom apps, drivers, and other files. The steps to register a new Windows 10 IoT Core device are described in the Device Update Center User Guide. Entries can be created in Device Update Center for each unique device model as shown below.

Device Update Center

Device Update Center

OS updates and custom updates (apps, drivers and files) are delivered through the same content distribution network that is used daily by hundreds of millions of Windows users around the world. Updates can be flighted in three distinct rings – Preview (test devices), Early Adopter (self-host devices) and General Availability (production devices) to have a controlled roll-out process where new changes can be validated with smaller sets of devices before broader deployment.

Flight 2

In addition to long-term support and device update control, Windows 10 IoT Core Services includes rights to commercialize with Device Health Attestation. This cloud-based service evaluates device health and can integrate with a device management system to improve the security of an IoT solution. These features give our partners the foundation to build sustainable business models based on Windows 10 IoT Core.

The Windows 10 IoT Core operating system remains royalty-free. Windows 10 IoT Core Services is a paid offering that can easily be added depending on the scenario.

  • Businesses and solution integrators can purchase IoT Core Services through an Azure subscription. The subscription price will be $0.30 per device per month when the product releases later this fall. During the preview period, the price is $0.15 per device per month.
  • Partners enrolled in our Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) program will be able to resell the service and establish ongoing relationships with their customers. They can sell a flexible, pay-as-you-go subscription as needed to meet device requirements. This option will be available later in the year.
  • OEMs can license the service with a device by pre-paying for the service. This option will be available later in the year.

Microsoft is committed to offerings to help our partners provide compelling solutions and achieve their business goals. Along with our recently announced support for NXP silicon platforms, long-term support, and the Windows AI Platform, Windows 10 IoT Core Services is another step in meeting our partners’ needs.

To learn more about developing with Windows 10 IoT, enroll in our Early Adopter Program at and to learn more about Windows 10 IoT Services, see the technical details at the Windows IoT Core Dev Center.

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Microsoft announces Windows 10 IoT Core Services at Computex 2018

Man standing working in a factory.

Similar to the embedded devices that came before them, modern IoT devices are often used in places where physical servicing is difficult and expensive. For example, it’s expensive for an oil company to put a technician on a helicopter to service equipment on a platform at sea. As a result, commercial IoT devices need to be supported and in service for far longer than their consumer counterparts.

Today at Computex 2018, we are excited to announce Windows 10 IoT Core Services. This offering will provide 10 years of support along with services to manage device updates and assess device health, enabling our IoT partners to create solutions to address their customers’ needs.

Windows 10 IoT Core is an edition of Windows 10 designed for building smart things and optimized to power intelligent edge devices. First released in 2015, it has been adopted by industry innovators such as Johnson Controls, Askey, and Misty Robotics.

Building on the Windows 10 IoT Core operating system, Windows 10 IoT Core Services will be a paid offering for IoT devices. The free edition of Windows 10 IoT Core will still be available via the Semi-Annual Channel (SAC).

  1. 10 years of Windows OS support via the Windows Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) which provides quality updates to keep device security up to date. Devices using the LTSC release won’t receive feature updates, enabling them to focus on stability by minimizing changes to the base operating system. Microsoft typically offers new LTSC releases every two to three years, with each release supported over a 10-year lifecycle.
  2. Update control with the newly announced Device Update Center (DUC) which provides the ability to create, customize, and control device updates. These updates are distributed by the same Content Distribution Network (CDN) as Windows Update which is used daily by millions of Windows customers around the world. Updates can be applied to the operating system, device drivers, as well as OEM-specific applications and files. Updates can be flighted to test devices prior to broader distribution.
  3. Device Health Attestation (DHA) enables enterprises and OEMs to raise the security bar of their organization with hardware-attested security. Evaluating the trustworthiness of a device at boot is essential for a trusted IoT system and a device cannot attest to its own trustworthiness. Instead, this must be done by an external entity such as DHA Azure cloud service. This service evaluates device health and can be combined with a device management system, such as Azure IoT Device Management. With this, you can take actions, for example, re-imaging the device, denying network access or creating a service ticket.

With these features, you can commercialize a device built on Windows 10 IoT Core and know that you have the enterprise-grade support and security that is synonymous with Windows. We are currently in limited preview with this service; to join, please email A broader preview will be ready in July 2018, with general availability later this year.

Earlier in the year, we announced that with the next release of Windows 10 IoT, we will provide 10 years of support for both Windows 10 IoT Core and Windows 10 IoT Enterprise. We also announced a partnership with NXP to support Windows 10 IoT Core on their i.MX 6 and i.MX 7 processors. The Windows 10 IoT Core Services offering builds on these announcements, as we continue to evolve the platform and make investments to support the IoT devices of today and tomorrow. We are excited about the possibilities and hope you will join us to create the future of IoT.

Windows 10 IoT – Tomorrow’s IoT today

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Updated June 5, 2018 11:03 pm

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Enable deeper connections with patients through medical IoT

It should come as no surprise that the internet of things (IoT) has tremendous potential to transform healthcare. Consumers are already familiar with IoT wearables, such as smartwatches and fitness bands, that enable them to track and improve their health at home. But at-home monitoring is just the start. Today, healthcare organizations are looking at how they can leverage IoT in their patient populations to enhance patient engagement, forge deeper connections, deliver more personalized care experiences, and improve adherence to care plans.

Helsa, one of Sweden’s largest private healthcare companies, recently implemented the Health360 ImagineCare Experience. The solution, from ImagineCare and Tribridge, a DXC Technology company, combines IoT monitoring, a patient engagement app, and care coordination tools to enable healthcare organizations to deliver right-size, right-time care, based on trusted information.

David Turcotte, Microsoft Global Industry Director, sat down with Helsa Regional Manager Jessica Hård Svensson, Helsa District Nurse Marie Blomster, and Gustav Hjelmgren, Cofounder of ImagineCare, to discuss how IoT is improving the lives of Helsa patients.

David Turcotte: Tell us about Helsa and the patient population you serve.
Jessica Hård Svensson: Helsa is a healthcare company with fifteen primary care units in Sweden. Our six outpatient units in southern Sweden, which I manage, serve 35,000 patients. As a general primary care practice, we care for the whole family, treating conditions from the common cold to severe chronic diseases.

Before piloting medical IoT, did you experience challenges implementing patient engagement initiatives?
Jessica: Of course! When you see your patients only once or twice a year, it’s very difficult to keep them motivated to stick to their treatment plans. Patients need ongoing engagement to make and maintain the shifts in lifestyle, like diet and exercise, necessary to manage chronic diseases.

I understand your pilot of the Health360 ImagineCare solution is still in its early phases, but you are already leveraging its medical IoT capabilities with select patients. What patient populations have you rolled it out to so far?
Marie Blomster: IoT remote medical sensing is ideal for patients with chronic diseases who need to frequently monitor their vital signs or levels. Right now, we are primarily using IoT for patients with diabetes and hypertension, since these patients need to continually track blood glucose levels and blood pressure. IoT remote medical sensing has improved the quality of care we can offer them.

What results have you seen from implementing IoT for this population?
Marie: Since patients can be monitored remotely with IoT, we have been able to respond much more quickly to undesirable metrics, such as high blood pressure and high blood glucose, which means that we can address potential emergencies before they happen.

Moreover, our doctors can make treatment decisions based on more accurate data. Without IoT, doctors often need to make medication decisions and dosage adjustments based on only one or two blood pressure values. With IoT, on the other hand, hypertension patients can monitor their blood pressure at home every day and automatically transmit the data to their care team, providing our doctors assurance that their medication decisions are based on accurate, representative data.

This has reduced the use of unnecessary medications, for example. Some patients present higher blood pressure in a clinical setting but have normal blood pressure when measured at home. Because our doctors now have the IoT data to see this, they are no longer prescribing blood pressure medications to patients who don’t need them.

Jessica: Moreover, since we engage with patients remotely, we have been able to reduce both planned and unplanned in-person visits to our primary care center.

What feedback have you received from patients on their experience with IoT and the ImagineCare solution?
Marie: Our patients have found IoT data highly motivating. For instance, we’ve given some of our patients IoT fitness trackers to encourage them to exercise more. ImagineCare gamifies exercise for them. They have become competitive around improving their metrics, which has motivated them to exercise more and meet the exercise goals recommended by their doctors.

Gustav Hjelmgren: On our side at ImagineCare, we’ve heard from Helsa patients that they feel much more connected to their care teams and that their care teams better understand their priorities. This closer connection makes them feel more secure. Moreover, because they have an ongoing conversation with their care team, rather than just being seen once or twice a year, there’s more continuity of care over time. This is fundamentally a new way of delivering care and it’s inspiring to see how patients are responding to it.

How do you anticipate IoT data will help you optimize the day-to-day flow of patients when you roll ImagineCare out to the larger population?
Jessica: IoT data will help us identify the high-risk patients who really need to be seen in person, so that we can prioritize them when scheduling appointments. That way we can focus on the patients who need in-person care. The rest of our patients—those who are in a place where they can effectively self-manage their care—we can engage with via the ImagineCare app. This will help us overcome a key healthcare challenge: the growing population of senior citizens coupled with the shortage of healthcare workers.

This will also be useful for managing the care of patients who are particularly anxious about their health. Because we will be able to monitor them and keep a close connection through ImagineCare, we hope they will feel less anxious and not feel the need to visit the clinic as frequently.

Are there other specific populations that you expect will see major benefits from IoT?
Gustav: There are a number of patient groups at Helsa with whom we are looking to use IoT. Beyond diabetes and hypertension, we see significant potential for IoT to benefit patients with chronic conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Why did you choose ImagineCare over other IoT solutions on the market?
Jessica: The deciding factor was that ImagineCare is more complete than other applications on the market. Most IoT applications are designed to be used for only a very small sub-segment of the patient population. ImagineCare struck us as much more applicable to a wide range of patients, both those with specific chronic diseases and the general population. The connection between ImagineCare and Microsoft was also an attraction.

Gustav: We feel that Microsoft shares ImagineCare’s values and our ambition to create a new way to deliver care based on the preferences of each patient. A benefit of our relationship with Microsoft is that we partner with them to make ongoing improvements. For instance, right now we’re talking to Microsoft about how to add more AI and machine learning to the solution to enhance its intelligence. Microsoft also connects us to industry-leading partners to further enhance our total healthcare offering.

What do you anticipate for the future of IoT in healthcare and specifically at Helsa?
Jessica: I expect the technology and its applications in healthcare to become increasingly sophisticated, and we hope to keep Helsa on the cutting edge. Most importantly, though, I anticipate we will continue to use IoT and digital engagement strategies in combination with in-person care as a way to enhance the human connection at the heart of care, rather than replace it.

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