Friday, February 3, 2023

Local business analyst creates ‘StayNeighbor,’ a platform set to go national connecting goods to volunteers [Free read]

Sam Hilsman, a business analyst for New Hanover Regional Medical Center, is launching a national platform with a network of web developers and volunteers that will connect at-risk people sheltering in place with volunteer groups willing to provide supplies free of cost. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

WILMINGTON, N.C. — It started with a post on Reddit.

After spending 10 years working in the healthcare information technology field, Sam Hilsman had the foresight to understand a void in the making: with the coronavirus spreading and triggering government-issued quarantine orders, people in need would have difficulty getting assistance from people wanting to help.

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So, he posted an idea for an aggregation platform on the “front page of the internet” Sunday, March 15. Now, a pilot for the StayNeighbor app is just days away in a small community in Texas and Hope Faith Homeless Assistance Campus in Kansas City, and one week from potentially launching in New Hanover County.

Instead of multiple volunteer groups unintentionally duplicating services or service areas, with StayNeighbor, they can all work off the same list of resources.

“I figured we would get to a point where more people would need their basic needs met by nonprofits and local community organizations and more people would want to donate who have extra. But there’s not really an easy way to consolidate those efforts,” Hilsman said.

StayNeighbor

Here’s how StayNeighbor works: a person in need (let’s say an elderly person afraid to shop in a crowded grocery store due to the contagious virus) sends up a so-called “smoke signal.” The signal shows up in a queue visible to nonprofits or community groups that have signed up, which can claim the need based on location, resources they have available, etc.

“First come first serve, it drops off the map,” Hilsman said of the “needs” queue. The same applies to packaged supplies that people are looking to donate. The platform lists toilet paper, milk, eggs, paper towels, and batteries as common items, with an option to add in other items. From there, it’s a matter of already-established volunteer organizations matching needs with donations in their area.

Take, for instance, Wilmington’s non-profit groups (which top 1,500, according to an IRS database). “They’re all kind of trying to do the same thing and accomplish the same goal. It’s hard to coordinate those efforts in any meaningful way,” Hilsman said. “So I had an idea to put out an app that would aggregate the need and donations in one place and they can all work from the same list.”

StayNeighbor’s user interface is simple. You simply choose whether you have a need or have supplies, and the web-based platform guides the process forward. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna F. Still)

Community effort

Since Hilsman’s first post, 43 professionals from around the nation have mobilized to get the platform up and running. Five days later, he got married at the courthouse (like most other large gatherings across the nation, his wedding venue planned for May canceled).

He said his new bride is very supportive, considering Hilsman has been working nonstop at his full-time job at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, and after work, on his new project. “I don’t think I’ve stopped working,” he said. Four of his NHRMC coworkers have joined the effort since, he said.

“It’s really eye-opening to see how many people are willing to help. It’s really nice to see people who are professionals and who are really just completely not interested in any monetary gain at all. They just want to help in the situation,” Hilsman said. “We don’t want any money, we don’t want anything. We just want to help out.”

David Reeser, founder of Wilmington-based IT Works, volunteered to host the software in a cloud server. After being clued into the project from community advocate and non-profit owner Rebecca Trammel, Reeser brought StayNeighbor to the attention of key Google and Uber reps.

“If we can help people safely stay at home, then we are making Wilmington, our community a safer place,” Trammel said. “It’s basically everyone pulling together to stay apart.”

Anticipating national growth, IT Works set up StayNeighbor with the capacity to expand without hiccups. “It’ll hold up,” Reeser said. “At the end of the day, we keep them up, keep them secure, and keep them fast.” 

“People want to help. so don’t be afraid to ask for help — that’s why this was created,” Reeser said.

For StayNeighbor to take off locally, Reeser said people needing help or wanting to help should sign up. The platform is web-based, so no app download is necessary to access it.

Decision-makers, especially government officials, can submit a letter of invitation, which can help bolster the platform and aggregate all-volunteer groups in the same place. “Get involved now, and get involved early,” Reeser said.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee Still at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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