Miracle Messages: Lambda Students are Using Tech to Help End Homelessness
Miracle Messages

At Lambda School, we know students are driven by the desire to gain real-world experience and work on meaningful projects. That’s why we’ve created co-op projects designed to mutually benefit both up-and-coming software engineers and for-good organizations. Today, we’ll be sharing a little more about Lambda Co-op and one stand-out project that’s making a big difference in our San Francisco community.

So what is Lambda Co-op? 

Lambda Labs enables students to work on cross-functional product teams to build solve real problems for real users. It requires a student to commit to at least 40 hours of work per week for a total of 8 weeks.  Projects are overseen by experienced project, product, UX, and engineer managers help to keep projects on track, define release cycles, and conduct code reviews. 

The mission of co-op projects is two-fold. First, co-ops offer real-world experience, meaningful projects, and mentorship to Lambda students and recent graduates who want to contribute to tech for good. Second, they provide no-cost software development services to nonprofits, startups, and other organizations that can use technology to achieve positive social and environmental change.

Stakeholders from these organizations are able to bring a problem to the student team, and work together through user research and discovery to find and build tech solutions. These organizations are not only willing to work with new developers, but benefit from the problem solving skills  that the teams bring to the table.  

The Miracle Messages Impact 

One such tech for good co-op project involved working with a non-profit out of San Francisco called Miracle Messages. The organization reunites individuals experiencing homelessness with their loved ones. They utilize a volunteer network to find homeless individuals on the street and record messages to their family, but also to spread these messages in hopes of finding a loved one to reunite with the homeless individual. Their team of volunteers aims for reunification, and the resulting connections result in a 20% likelihood of housing for homeless individuals who participate. 

Image via Google

 

Miracle Messages has limited full time staff, and it is difficult to onboard new volunteers and help existing volunteers stay motivated, engaged, and encouraged. Because of this, the organization is not able to take advantage of all the people interested in helping. They needed a tool to help facilitate volunteer enrollment, decreasing the overhead required to coordinate volunteer work. 

“The problem the CEO was facing is that he needed to grow his volunteer base, but when interested people visited his website they didn’t sign up. Others thought that since the organization was San Francisco-based, there wasn’t an opportunity to volunteer with them,” said Lambda co-op student Azra Panjwani, who worked on the Miracle Messages project. 

To solve this problem, the UX designer for the team performed user research, consulted with the CEO, and designed an initial set of features for the engineers to build and test with users. 

With feedback from the organizations’ CEO, they gained clarity and worked through product confusion, including challenges with the number of chapters and colors used in the site design. Additionally, the team kept a clear focus on the user to prioritize the most needed features over several iterations. Their final product, a map of all of the active Miracle Messages chapters, was demoed at the organization’s annual event during the last week of the project. Click here to see the final result.  

Lambda School students built a chapter map for Miracle Messages to increase volunteer participation. Screencap via Miracle Messages.


Now that the project is complete, the map will increase volunteer enrollment and engagement for Miracle Messages and decrease staff coordination time. The map will also provide a platform to celebrate reunion success stories. In the future, additional Lambda labs teams may work on the map to add and improve features as needed.

The Student Experience

Panjwani used her skills from Lambda and experience in product marketing and tech project management to guide her team to align behind the project’s goals and facilitate communication between the developers, UX designers, and Miracle Messages staff and CEO. In addition to working primarily on backend, AWS upload, and Google Analytics, she ensured each stakeholder meeting had a clear agenda, specific asks, and prioritized tasks. 

“Going through this process helps build a lot of empathy for the business partners and stakeholders we have in the real world, which sets us apart from other junior engineers,” she said.  

The Miracle Messages project was her first experience with stakeholder negotiation. She hopes to be able to use her new client management experience in her career as a developer and is now mentoring other students through the challenges of building real products as a Team Lead on another Co-ops project.

Through her experience working with Miracle Messages, Panjwani is thrilled at the potential for solving real-world problems through technology. 

“Homelessness is a huge problem in San Francisco, and I’d like to do something about it that’s longer lasting,” Panjwani said. “Miracle Messages is doing something really innovative to solve that issue.” 


Want more info on Co-op projects? We’ll be sharing a new project every month, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram to learn more about the ways Lambda School students are using tech to change the world. Interested in becoming a co-op partner? E-mail jessica.wilkinson@lambdaschool.com


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