My favorite event of the year has come and gone, and I have to say I am having some major withdrawals from it already. I mean, who wouldn’t when you constantly have food and drink at your disposal, a great group of generous people to hang out with all weekend, and the coolest nonprofit projects to work on at your fingertips?
What is this event I speak so highly of? None other than the annual Des Moines Charity Hack; a 48-hour hackathon in the heart of Des Moines that brings about 85 developers, designers, and innovators together to help out local nonprofits with some sort of technology need.
Last year was the first year I participated in the event. (Read more about last year’s hack here.) My Webspec teammates and I partnered with Forest Avenue Outreach on a new website. We didn’t know what to expect going into the event but came out after the 48-hours wanting to do it again. It gave us a different perspective, not only on how we work as a company but how we help the community around us with our talents. When the time came this year, I was more than willing to give up my weekend again to spend time helping out local nonprofits.
This year the hack was held at Gravitate, a start-up hub in downtown Des Moines. The first night of the event is always the most exciting. Check in and networking started at 6:00 Thursday night. During check in, everyone got the list of the 10 nonprofits each team could potentially help. While we waited to hear the nonprofits give their presentation, you could feel the excitement and anticipation build up in the room. The smell of delicious food in the air and the sound of multiple conversations going on between nonprofits and participants alike made for an exhilarating hour of getting to know the people we will be spending the next 48 hours with. Once 7:00 hit, participants gathered around to listen to each nonprofit give their 5 minute introduction to the struggles they have been experiencing and what they believe their solution was. After they finished, hackers walked around the room to talk about the projects and how they might like to help – kind of like speed dating, but way less awkward. Some people came pre-formed into teams prior to the event (like ours) but most are formed either during the networking or the “speed dating” for nonprofits.
— Workiva (@Workiva) March 5, 2016
This year, we built our team from mostly Webspec team members. We brought eight employees, five of whom were new to the event (Celeste, Lindsey, Taylor, Eric, and Niren) and three who were veterans (Ethan, Michael, and I). Our team strategy for picking a nonprofit was to find one that could utilize all of our skills and strengths. We debated for a bit on which one we would like to help out, talked to a few of the nonprofits we felt might be a good fit, and decided that we would like to work with Melissa and Sheena from the Roosevelt Cultural District. We felt their project would be the best fit for all of our team members. We also gained one more team member through the process – Richard, a product manager who joined us from Wells Fargo.
Why Roosevelt Cultural District? In short, they needed a website, something we do everyday at Webspec, and their specific needs fit our team well. They needed help with SEO and content, something Lindsey and Taylor could help out with. We knew that Celeste would be able to capture awesome photos of stores in the area (necessary to show off the district resources) and the rest of us, myself included, could work on making a custom website to pull it all together. It was a project that we could all do something for and create a product that both Webspec and the Roosevelt Cultural District would be proud of.
What is the Roosevelt Cultural District? The Roosevelt Cultural District (RCD) is a certified historic district comprised of 29 businesses with the Des Moines Playhouse as the cultural hub. Built in 1933, the Roosevelt Shopping Center was the first true shopping center in the state. Originally built to house businesses such as a drug store, dance academy, doctor’s office, beauty parlor, bakery, and florist, the one square mile area has grown and thrived into a cultural landmark that reminds visitors of Des Moines at its finest. The RCD became a state certified historic district and obtained their 501c3 status in 2005. Today the area thrives with shops, restaurants, and other entertainment venues with a new streetscape project to be completed by 2017.
Once we decided that the RCD was the nonprofit for us the event officially began. In the next 48 hours we would accomplish more than we could have thought possible. Check back for my next blog to find out just what we created!