Mount Airy resident Shari Smith-Jackson and her teenage son had been volunteering together for years when she got tired of tracking down signatures and paperwork to prove his hours for school credit.
Between the Boy Scouts, various school sports and doing neighborhood community service, it became harder and harder to keep track of and log service hours.
The older he got, Smith-Jackson said, the more it should be his responsibility.
“We got in situations he wouldn’t have the correct paperwork,” she said. “You know, he’s a good student, but I was thinking, ‘How can we make this easier?'”
After some brainstorming, the mother-son pair focused their efforts on something she knew he’d always have on hand: his phone.
After more than a year of work, some self-taught business and technology crash courses and a top prize at Temple University business school’s 2019 Be Your Own Boss Bowl, Pay It Forward Live is now available for free in the app store.
The bowl’s first-prize for Social Impact was $20,000, and it’s helped Smith-Jackson get the app developed and pilot it with local organizations. Currently the app can track students’ hours, share information about volunteering nearby, promote different organizations that need help and eventually become a recruitment tool for events like the Special Olympics.
“I really wanted this to be a universal tool,” she said. “I wanted people to be able to share where they are, what they’re doing and how they did it.”
This part of the app — the education around how and where one can volunteer — is just as critical to the success of the app as the logging of hours, she said.
Smith-Jackson has become technologist after a major career change: She previously spent 11 years as a City of Philadelphia parole officer.
So could the app be implemented for folks in the criminal justice system who need to log community service?
“People are constantly bringing it up to me, the corrections side of this, and ironically, I hadn’t even thought of that,” she said. “Maybe someday.”
But for now, she’s focused on piloting the app with local orgs and tweaking it before she approaches national nonprofits. In addition to making the process of tracking hours easier, she wants more folks to know that volunteering can be easy and come in various forms.
“I want the app to expose that just because you don’t have time to go to a food bank, or have a lot of money to give, doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer,” she said. “I want a diverse showing, a diverse amount of ways people can help out.”-30-
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