Janeen Gaskins was in business with her husband Shaka – a nickname he picked up in the military – at their firm Shakatronics for 12 years before founding the G.A.S.K.I.N.S. Charity, an organization she’s building to help curate tech for those in need of living-in-place solutions. She’s also the 2020 CEDIA Education Volunteer of the Year.
CEDIA: What got you interested in technology?
Janeen Gaskins: I've always loved electronics. So when I met my husband, he was in the military and he courted me by putting a sound system in my Pathfinder. But this was no ordinary, go down and get your system put in at a store. This was a Shakatronics sound system. I had no idea that sound could sound like that.
Fast forward a couple of years, he had retired and my home became his playground. Honestly, I had no ideas that home integration could be so beneficial and enjoyable. My husband's skillset really enlightened me. I was like, "Wow. Look at what can be done."
I thought, "This is where we need to be. This is good. We can transform our lives, not only to be enjoyable in our homes, but also be simplified," because I started to have to take care of elderly parents in my home, and there were things that you could automate and do to make life more convenient.
CEDIA: How did the charity come to be?
Gaskins: I was an urban planner before joining my husband’s business. I write grants, and I worked for a couple of municipalities out here in Arizona, and writing grants for housing, water infrastructure, all sorts of things.
I became the administrator. My husband’s good technically, but when it comes to the administration, not so much. He just wanted to get in there and do the physical work.
The business was flourishing. Our niche area was smaller jobs -- some big ones, but we did a lot of those smaller ones. And then COVID hit. The smaller ones that we did that were really keeping us afloat, so when the pandemic hit it just wiped us out.
Funny enough, the weirdest thing was I had gotten a scholarship from the Better Business Bureau and GoDaddy, because I wanted to do more with Shakatronics right before the pandemic hit. And I said, "I wish we could do this for the less-fortunate people, the elderly people. I can write grants. I do HUD grants. We could do this. “
CEDIA: And so G.A.S.K.I.N.S. Charity was born as a result?
Gaskins: That’s correct. There's three different tiers. The first, the most expensive tier begins with an intake process, or an application process, and the person would have to be elderly, disabled, disabled veteran, or low-income; they'd have to have a need.
Once they fit all that criteria, we'd go and we assess the house and we say, "Okay, this house needs this." If you have PTSD, do we need to do shades or themes when you come into the house? If you're hearing impaired, what do we need to do with the sound? Some of the elderly people with dementia, are you socially isolated? Can we do the big screen TVs, and you can talk with people? Those sorts of things. So we think about all of those things and then we write up a scope of work. And then we bid that out.
We put it out to all of the integrators in the area, and award the job to the right fit.
Tier two is a little more simplified. It's a lower-level project. Maybe just somebody has one ailment, and so we would renovate the home just for that one thing, maybe a $20,000 renovation. The last tier would be our e-commerce. I can write small grants to Home Depot for something as simple as grab bars.
CEDIA: What compelled you to volunteer with CEDIA?
Gaskins: Shout out to Amanda Wildman and Jamie Briesemeister. Awesome, awesome ladies. Just saw me at a CEDIA conference and said, "Hey," and talked to me, and engaged me about being in a family business with Shakatronics, and how they were as well.
I was in the Business Working Group, then the Professional Development Advisory Council – it was really something. I was like, "Oh my goodness, these knowledgeable people are welcoming me into their world. And I'm learning as I'm serving."
CEDIA: How important is inclusion and diversity -- and how’s the industry doing, in your opinion?
Gaskins: I'm black and I'm a female. And my husband is a six-foot, four-inch very, very chocolate man. Some may find him a little intimidating; I won't lie to you. As for Shakatronics, well, most of our money came from the smaller projects because we couldn't get in the door in many places. Even now, he struggles, and we don't know what it is. Sometimes we don't speak the same language. Him being military helps -- he can find something in common with nearly anyone.
I've been to a couple of CEDIA seminars and noted this. I appreciated one seminar leader at CEDIA -- he said, "You know what? It's real. You are black. We're not going to lie. You might not get all the jobs, but you'll get them. You'll find where your sweet spot is." Our clientele looks different. It just does. And we don't have a study to say why we can't get those good jobs.
Industry-wise, I must say that everybody has been supportive -- they've always been willing to share with us. We've always been able to get people to mentor us or help us.
CEDIA: For somebody starting out, anybody, literally anybody, what advice would you give them?
Gaskins: I would say join CEDIA. And I would further say, "Don't just join, but take advantage of the benefits."