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Living, and giving, with purpose: Alumna's teaching career turns to technology

Kristen B. Morales

June 4, 2019

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As a graduation coach for the Forsyth County School District, Jamie Rife (M.Ed. '08) began to fit the pieces together.

She saw kids coming to school who were being held back by issues at home. Some were missing simple needs, like shoes; others arrived exhausted because they were sleeping in a car or at a short-term motel, carrying their belongings in a plastic bag because sometimes they needed to move at a moment's notice.

"I had parents who were transitioning back into the workforce and their barrier was something as simple as work boots. These were the barriers I wanted to remove for our students," said Rife. "When I went out to talk with community leaders, everyone was so willing to help, but they didn't have a way to help that was meaningful."

Rife began to wonder if technology could help children and families overcome these barriers. She crossed paths with Blake Canterbury, who had experience in marketing, branding and app design as well as a passion for using technology for good, and she mentioned the issues she was seeing in her daily work. "I said, 'These are the things I see right now, and I know you had a vision to bridge that gap using technology,'" she said. "And that became the premise of Purposity, where if you knew a neighbor were in need, you'd help."

Connecting donors with needs
Purposity is an app that connects families in need with members of their community who want to help. But instead of serving as a conduit for donations, like many nonprofit organizations, or giving directly to the beneficiary, like a crowd-sourced fundraiser, Purposity uses technology as the middleman and focuses on support from within the community it serves.

For example, say a student's family is experiencing homelessness, but with a donation of supportive shoes, that student's mother or father can retain a stable job and move the family into more secure housing.

First, a social worker or counselor at a local school identifies the need. They contact Purposity, where a community manager writes up the story and posts it on the app. Then community residents who have downloaded the Purposity app get that story included as part of weekly push notifications coming to their phone. Donors can use the app to purchase the item, and Purposity ships it directly to the staff member who requested the item.

But before any of that can happen, Purposity has to launch in a community—the whole idea is that it's a way to help your neighbors. So, before the app launches, it first connects with schools and other organizations that can help identify these types of low-cost, high-impact needs. Then, Purposity works with these organizations to create a buzz in the community, and also to gather a list of needed items.

Once a certain number of residents sign up, and a certain number of needs have been listed, Purposity becomes available in that area.

Expanding its reach
Purposity began in 2016 and was first used in Forsyth County. Since then, it's launched in 21 school districts in Georgia, with another 25 set to launch this fall. In total, Purposity is used by school districts across 10 states, including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Denver Public Schools.

Having a big-name proponent in a community to help spread the word is key, said Rife. For example, in Denver, it was the mayor who jumped on board to promote the app. In Georgia, Purposity is also expanding thanks to a partnership with Georgia Power, which is providing funding to bring Purposity to every school district.

"Thanks to Georgia Power, 100% of every donation goes to the need. Their initiative is to have it in every school district," said Rife. And as user numbers rise in communities where the app is used, Purposity will add additional staff members to help deliver the items.

"As a former educator, I know what it's like to have a student come to my office and say, 'Did my shoes come in yet?'" Rife said "So, as the user numbers rise in a community, we'll add another staff member or nonprofit to help grow that proportionally."

Training for success
When Rife began taking master's-level classes as part of her educational administration and policy degree at UGA, her goal was to create change on a district or state level. But the degree also helped her transition beyond the role of administrator once she began to fit the pieces together between student needs and student success.

Because classes focused on leadership principles—for example, budgeting, human resources and keeping a staff engaged—Rife said she's able to continue to draw from her training in her role with Purposity.

"A lot of the skills and knowledge I've formed in that program have been directly applicable to what I do now," she said. "The knowledge base has really translated into building the app. Without that, I would not be prepared at the level that I am to build and sustain that organization."

Hopefully, she added, the experience co-founding Purposity can become part of a larger movement connecting generosity to the next generation.

"We wanted to build a way for the next generation to be generous," she said. "I think, in the digital age, it comes with a certain level of transparency that donors want. So, if you have even a little bit of money, you know where it's going."