Nonprofits today face many challenges - volunteerism is decreasing, but needs of the people supported by nonprofits are complex and growing, especially in areas such as mental health. So many underserved individuals have to cope with not just day-to-day struggles but also long-term impact on their mental health.

Being able to get more mental health providers to volunteer their services can generate huge, immediate impact. Mental health professionals also come from a culture of volunteering and giving back - so what's keeping people from volunteering?

Biggest reason is NOT time or money but lack of drive. Motivation drops when people feel like they are not really making a difference - key drivers include: lack of responsibility or flexibility, no sense of how they're contributing, wasted time on unproductive or unengaging tasks that don't leverage their skills or expertise.

Introducing stepUP:

A platform for nonprofits to identify and target specific mental health providers who are more likely to donate their time to clients in need

stepUP aims to deliver much higher volunteer engagement and retention by:

  • Increasing responsibility and tailoring assignments to volunteer interest and expertise
  • Increasing flexibility (by leveraging technology for remote sessions)
  • Tracking and showing the positive impact that these volunteers are generating

How we built it

  • A Ruby on Rails application deployed on Heroku.
  • Version control with Github.
  • We built an additional 2 APIs - one in Rails and one in Sinatra which are also deployed on Heroku using Puma servers to assist with concurrency.

Our Sinatra API utilized webparsing libraries to gather readily available information for mental healthcare providers from the internet. Our Rails API utilized our Sinatra API to generate the Postgresql database containing a list of mental healthcare providers and relevant information. Our primary Rails application then interacts with our Rails API through our search function which makes an API request to our Rails API which identifies mental health providers best suited for the patient's needs using a search algorithm that considers factors such as language, specific issues, location, and the expertise of the mental health provider.

Challenges we ran into

Our primary challenge was managing data flow. In creating our database through our Rails API and Sinatra API, we dealt with large amounts of data that challenged us at each stage (i.e., collection, management, and analysis). The process of gathering the data took a large amount of time and required service oriented architecture to allow the project to be completed within the available time limit. In addition, we found it difficult to determine how to best leverage the data available to us.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are particularly proud of leveraging our combined technical, design, and business skills to come up with a viable solution to a very real problem within a limited timeframe.

What we learned

We learned how it will be like to try and approach dealing with real life problems using code. It's exciting to experience creating projects to impact a community rather than just finishing assignments. We learned the potential expectation of us when we actually go and start our career in developing projects.

What's next for stepUP

We're eager to see how nonprofits and providers respond to our offering. Depending on interest and volume, we would continue to build out functionalities such as streamlined outreach mechanisms, patient request tracking, and other collaboration mechanisms in improve continuity of care for clients.

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