Student-made GoServe volunteer app wins Junior Leadership Academy $1,000 prize

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 941 views 

Five area high school students took home the $1,000 prize for a charitable giving app they developed during the second annual Junior Leadership Academy (JLA) program administered by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Future School of Fort Smith’s America Cruz, Southside High School’s Jack Kincannon, Northside High School’s Nakiah Willis and Lauragale Ralston, and Greenwood High School’s Tyler Merreighn worked together on the project. The five say they intend to use at least part of the money to finish out the app and make it available in Apple’s App Store, starting with the Fort Smith region and expanding it to the rest of the state.

Called GoServe, the application is a social network for volunteers, allowing them to create individual profiles, mark those profiles as private if they wish to remain anonymous, and use their identities to select and schedule volunteer opportunities with participating charities. The app also would allow donors to send money to their favorite organizations if unable to volunteer time.

“We came up with the idea initially because we’re all in the National Honor Society at our schools, and they require a certain amount of service hours. We found there wasn’t an easy way online to find those hours or find ways to schedule those hours, so we wanted a place online where you could do that,” said Kincannon, who served as team leader on the project.

Four of the five members also told Talk Business & Politics in an interview Wednesday (March 14) they have volunteer work experience. Kincannon helps out at his church while Willis, team coordinator, said she “loves” assisting with the Riverview Hope Campus sack lunch program on Saturday mornings. Merreighn, group scribe, acknowledged doing volunteer work with the Greenwood Beta Club and Salvation Army while Ralston said she volunteers “quite a bit, so the idea of an app that could track that for me and help the community was a really good thing.”

“And we thought overall, as a group, if you want to help the community, a community is made of people, and you should probably help everyone. So the app was just a really good idea that popped up,” Ralston said.

Members of the Junior Leadership Academy winning Green Team are (left to right), America Cruz, Lauragale Ralston, Jack Kincannon, Nakiah Willis, and Tyler Merreighn.

After two months of work, the team’s winning efforts were almost for naught. Ralston — the team’s marketing head and app builder — said the group “basically had two apps,” but a technical glitch wiped out the first one shortly before commencement.

“The first one was constant, almost every day after school, going to work on it, seeing if I could make it better and more functional. Then, one week before our commencement, it glitched out and deleted everything we had worked on over the past two months. So for three or four days, I was pounding the pavement at school, at home, staying up late, getting up early, and I used a different platform to try to get it back up and running.”

Fortunately for the team, she did, and Kincannon said all are in agreement: they want to see it through.

“We haven’t decided yet, but I was thinking we could chip in a little bit to get it running and put it in the App Store once it’s fully developed.”

Kincannon said the budget for GoServe is around $550.

“I think that was a big factor in us winning the competition. Ours was a pretty simple idea, and it’s easy to get going.”

Cruz could not appear for the interview, but she provided a written statement saying it was “a bit of a struggle coming up with the idea,” but the group was “excited” to pursue the app beyond the JLA program.

“It is something needed among people in our age group,” Cruz said, adding that during the planning, “we forgot that this was just a project.”

“We had looked at prices for the App Store, management of the app, and all types of other technological factors needed to get the app up and running. I feel that the group as a whole is personally invested and would like for it to come to life,” Cruz said.

Debra Young, the senior education coordinator for the Chamber, told Talk Business & Politics that finishing the app is not required, but “That’s awesome if they want to take that initiative. … It’s definitely encouraged, and these guys just took it upon themselves to do that.”

Young and Chamber President and CEO Tim Allen work with the program, and Allen said that while the “Green Team” were the sole prize winners, all six groups have received interest from area business leaders.

“We’ve already had a couple of high-net-worth individuals ask us for the presentations, so the leadership in Fort Smith have definitely taken notice of what they’ve been doing.”

The JLA program has experienced steady growth in interest from its inaugural year. Initially, the program received around 40 applications. For year two, the number rose to “65 or 70,” Allen said, and from those, the Chamber can accept approximately 30. The 2017-2018 program graduated 32.

“We wish we could take a lot more, but we also want it to be an exclusive program,” Allen added.

For the students, the exclusivity is a perk. “Everyone in the program is going to be driven to do something with themselves, and that’s something you don’t always encounter just in a general population of high school students. So it’s good to be around people that have the same goals as you,” Kincannon said.

Cruz said the program gave her a chance “to interact with people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

“The students chosen were admirable, especially those in my group. They are very involved in their schools, and highly invested in our community. It was one of those cases where you become the people you surround yourself with, and I felt that we all fed off of each other’s positive energy,” Cruz said.