Students at UNC at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS) are often presented with opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge in a community setting. Bachelor of Science in Information Science (BSIS) student Keith Morris is an excellent example. For a little over a year, Morris has worked with Activate Good, a nonprofit volunteer center based in Raleigh, NC, and he has since been promoted to work as their sole developer, creating the organization's Web site and search functions. Recently, Morris has been helping to promote the second annual Activate Raleigh Day of Service, to be held September 11, 2013.
Activate Good “works as a ‘force multiplier’ for causes with volunteer needs. Through our outreach efforts and online volunteer community, we help recruit and connect individuals, groups, and companies to fulfill volunteer needs with partnering nonprofits in Raleigh and the Greater Triangle” according to the organization’s Web site.
Morris’s projects as a developer have included completely rebuilding Activate Good’s volunteer management system as a standalone Web application, and creating an autocomplete search box for activategood.org.
“When Activate Good hired me as their volunteer coordinator last year, they didn't know that I had any Web development experience,” said Morris. “But I had learned a few tricks in the Air Force. Once it became clear to me that their volunteer management system wasn't living up to their great ambitions, I offered to rebuild it from the ground up as a standalone Web application rather than something built within the rigid structure of a content management system like Wordpress or Joomla. Building it this way gives us more flexibility to innovate. Rather than trying to figure out whether the content management system will support what we want to make it do, I just write the code to make it work.”
“It has been really exciting to be able to apply to this project some of the new skills and ideas I've picked up at SILS,” said Morris. “My INLS 101 class gave me just enough background on search engines to dive right into the documentation for ElasticSearch, an open source search engine based on Apache Lucene, which I've deployed to help people find volunteer opportunities in the Triangle. Most recently, I whipped up an autocomplete text box that searches n-gram tokenized data pulled from a MySQL database into the search engine. With each letter typed into the text box, a query is sent to the search engine and the top ten relevant results are returned and used to populate a list without refreshing the page. No one else is as excited about this as I am. It is pretty cool.”
Morris notes that while the technology is important, it’s what the organization is able to accomplish for the good of the local communities because of it that really counts. Activate Good supports over 150 charities located in the Triangle and helps people find ways to get involved in their community.
Businesses, groups and individuals will volunteer at various organizations throughout the Triangle to honor the lives lost on September 11th, 2001 during the terrorist attacks on America. Last year, 1,000 volunteers participated in the Day of Service; this year Activate Good, along with its partner the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, hope to increase that number to 1 ,500. Already, nearly half of the volunteer projects have been filled.
Following the Day of Service, there will be an evening commemoration featuring a special guest speaker, musical bands and the Mayor of Raleigh at the Red Hat Amphitheater.
“We're really excited to have Mayor McFarlane coming out to speak at the evening commemoration event, where we will also have live music and on-site service projects that people can participate in,” said Morris. “All of this is supported by our Web application at activategood.org, which I have built using some of the skills learned here at SILS.”
Faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends are invited to get involved with the effort. In addition to helping those in need, it’s a great opportunity to gain community service.
To sign up to volunteer for this year’s Day of Service, or for more information, visit http://activategood.org/activateraleigh2013.
For moe information about:
Daytime volunteer projects: http://activategood.org/activateraleigh2013
Evening Commemoration + Service Projects at the Red Hat Amphitheater: http://9-11eveningcommemoration.eventbrite.com/
Photo of Keith Morris sporting his Activate Good tee shirt by Alecia Smith, communications assistant at SILS and UNC at Chapel Hill undergraduate.