Five students from various schools in Sebastian County were rewarded Wednesday for their efforts in benefiting the community with a volunteering app.
The students, who were part of a team in the Junior Leadership Academy, received a $1,000 cash award split among them at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon. The students were Jack Kincannon of Southside High School, America Cruz of the Future School of Fort Smith, Nakiah Willis of Northside High School, Tyler Merreighn of Greenwood High School and Lauragale Ralston of Northside High School.
Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the JLA was born to create an environment where the chamber can identify leaders in high school and give them a "back stage pass" of what awaits them after high school.
"Our first year, it was really just for Northside and Southside high schools, and we had about ... 45 applications, and the reason we started out with those two high schools is because, you know, it was our first year, and we had to make sure that we were starting up a program that was beneficial to all parties involved," Allen said.
Allen said the chamber had about 65 applicants for the second year of JLA, which was the 2017-18 school year. Debra Young, senior education coordinator for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in addition to Northside and Southside high schools, JLA had students from Future School of Fort Smith, Union Christian Academy and Greenwood High School this year.
Thirty-two students graduated from the JLA on Thursday, Allen said. At the beginning of the program, the students are informed they have to work on a class project. They are divided into teams and have to present their projects at graduation.
"We don't guide them, we don't instruct them on what that needs to be," Allen said. "The goal of JLA is to give more freedom to the students to totally think outside the box and to come up with something that would better the community from a high school student's perspective, and ... the cool part is we get to learn a lot about our community and things that they're interested in that ... maybe we haven't considered."
The winning team for the competition is determined by a group of local business people, Allen said.
Every member of every team serves a specific role. In the case of the winning team, Kincannon was the team leader, Cruz was the team spokesperson, Willis was the team coordinator, Merreighn was the scribe and Ralston handled marketing.
Together, they created a student-based app called GoServe. Ralston said GoServe shows all the organizations in Fort Smith and the hours they need, or supplies and materials they need to keep running. One can sign up on the app to volunteer at these organizations or give them supplies.
"You have a personal profile that shows all of your stuff and how many hours that you've logged, and then we plan to use, like, our ad revenue to fund a scholarship for someone that has a certain amount of hours each year, so they can apply to that," Kincannon said.
According to a copy of the team's presentation that was provided by Young, the mission of GoServe is to allow people in Fort Smith and the surrounding area to better connect with and have a positive impact on their community.
Kincannon said he believes the app will promote volunteering for younger people, as well as people who do not usually volunteer.
"Because I think if we can reach a wider audience with an app, rather than just individual organizations outputting their own advertising for people to come volunteer, if we have it all in one place, people might be more inclined to go ahead and try something out that they figure they might like, kind of a one-stop shop for volunteering," Kincannon said.
Ralston estimated it will be a couple of months before the GoServe app is available on all app stores such as the Apple App Store and Google Play.