A Hall of Famer, in More Ways than One

Houston Texans' defensive end JJ Watt is one of the best players in the NFL.  But once he decides to hang up his cleats for good, he'll be remembered for so much more.

Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Houston area in August 2017, was the subject of multiple fundraisers and crowdfunding campaigns.  But none were more successful than the one Watt led - by a long shot.  His crowdfunding campaign raised an incredible $41.6 million for hurricane relief, an all time record for crowdfunding.  Nice job JJ.

The financial impact aside, this effort did absolute wonders when it comes to encouraging people to help others.  Whether you're a sports fan or not, chances are you've heard of Watt - and when you see someone as famous as Watt lead an effort of this magnitude, there's a good chance it influences a little inspiration.  Athletes get bashed all the time for off-the-field mishaps, but when they do something like this, the positive power it has on our society cannot be overlooked.

Social media, which Watt leaned on greatly throughout this campaign, also gets bashed in the public eye - but without it there's no way the total gets that high.  It's easy to dwell on the undesirable features of social media and how it might be damaging our society.  But just keep in mind that when used in this way, it's incredibly powerful.  So let's all start using it the right way!

Making Life Easier for Those Who Need Volunteers

Our Advomate mobile app fills in a variety of gaps that exist on the volunteer landscape through its peer-to-peer environment.  One of the most notable is cutting down on lead times, or the amount of time it takes for a prospective volunteer to go from interested to participating.

Many charitable organizations & nonprofits require registration and/or screening of new volunteers, which can often slow the process when people are in true need.  For v3.0, we're looking to help this process along through a new feature that links volunteers back to the organization's website to complete any necessary registrations:

Further registration.jpg

We've also made it easier for both those posting initiatives and eager volunteers to pinpoint the location of the initiative.  Here's a screenshot of the new version of our address field, which auto-populates on the map once you begin typing:

Map autopopulate snip.JPG

These are seemingly small changes, but nonetheless VERY important ones to accomplishing our mission!  Finding volunteers and volunteering shouldn't be a lengthy process that leaves you wanting to pull your hair out.  We're excited to continue along our journey to help fix this, and get charitable organizations the help they need when they need it!

Road Trippin' the Right Way

Summertime has a way of lighting a fire up under us and calling us to the road.  Whether it's wanting to get away from the scorching heat & humidity for a little bit (ahem, Floridians) or just wanting to fulfill that sense of adventure, there's no more popular time to take a road trip.

And just like anything else, there's a right way to do it and you'll only get better with experience.  Here are just a few of our favorite tips to make your next road trip less expensive, more enjoyable, and more memorable:

  1. Make sure your baby is good to go - About a week before you leave, have your mechanic check fluid levels, brakes, tires and anything else that could cause problems.  Be sure your spare tire is fully inflated and that you have jumper cables on hand.
  2. Keep her clean, before AND during - Your wheels are everything on a road trip, so keep up with them.  Take a couple minutes per day to purge your car of undesirable junk - which can accumulate quickly and drive you mad in close quarters.
  3. Don't plan too much - You're out on the open road, so be free!  It's okay to have primary destinations in mind that you want to hit, but be open about how and when you'll arrive at them.  There's a ton to see out there!
  4. Back roads are your buddy - Again, there's a ton to see.  Some of our favorite sights have come OFF the main highways and on state roads that not many people traverse.  This is also a great tip to avoid rush hour traffic
  5. Be good co-pilots - It's crucial to split up drive time equally so nobody in your group gets burned out, and has a chance to take in all the sights.  And when you're sitting shotgun, you're co-pilot #1 - so be there to tend to the driver's every need.
  6. Be open with lodging - We know firsthand: there are a TON of options out there for overnight stays.  From hotels, to Walmarts, to Camping Worlds, to gas stations, to campgrounds, make sure to check all your local options as some of them can be quite memorable (just exercise safety)
  7. If you're a park-goer, get passes - We learned this lesson the hard way.  If you plan on hitting up a bunch of parks on your journey (both National and State), purchases annual passes!  They'll save you lots of cash.

Here are a couple great links with more road trip tips.  Happy travels this summer...wherever the road may take you!

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brianroberts/2018/04/30/road-trip-tips/#208d86476198

 

https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/road-trips/articles/road-trip-tips

Screenshots, Screenshots, Screenshots

Here's a rundown of some of the latest features we've added to the Advomate app.  This is just a small taste as we currently remain busy developing v3.0...so many more will be on the way!

 

 

 The first actual initiative completed over the app.

The first actual initiative completed over the app.

 Our Market, where points earned from volunteering can be redeem for items & discounts from local merchants.

Our Market, where points earned from volunteering can be redeem for items & discounts from local merchants.

 The user menu on the Android version.

The user menu on the Android version.

 A user profile example on the iOS version.

A user profile example on the iOS version.

 The "Create Initiative" screen which includes a calendar feature for easy initiative planning.

The "Create Initiative" screen which includes a calendar feature for easy initiative planning.

 List view of initiatives, with search

List view of initiatives, with search

 "Coachmarks" that help guide users through the app in a user-friendly manner.

"Coachmarks" that help guide users through the app in a user-friendly manner.

Phase 2 of Beta Is in the Books

After 3 weeks of great work by our 23 users, Phase 2 of closed beta testing for the Advomate app is in the books.  The focus of this phase was on the app's design - and we got some outstanding feedback that will be incorporated between now and the beginning of the third and final phase.  Our users gave us some great suggestions, especially in the area of the app's main dashboard.  The consensus is that the main screen that appears upon logging in should be easier to navigate and should display the available & accepted volunteer Initiatives more clearly.  It's all about getting people the help they need more easily & quickly - so this was great advice!

We also completed our first actual real-life Initiatives through the app during this phase.  First was the Joe's Creek waterside cleanup in March, which was hosted by Keep Pinellas Beautiful.  The second was a trash cleanup at Upham Beach Park in St. Pete Beach.  Thank to all the users who participated!

Now we'll take some time to go through every piece of feedback, see what we need to implement going forward, and start making the changes.  This process will likely take more than a few weeks as we want to be sure the app looks beautiful and is FULLY functional, without any bugs, for Phase 3.  During this final phase we will onboard actual nonprofits onto the app - so we have to be sure that everything is 100% awesome.  We're hoping to get phase 3 underway by the end of May...and the next stop after that will be full launch!

So the journey continues.  It hasn't been an easy one by any stretch, but that makes seemingly small milestones like this one that much more rewarding.  Nevertheless we are so excited about what the future holds for Peace Across America and Advomate.  Thanks for joining us on the ride!

Beta Testing Resumes...

Phase 2 of beta testing for the Advomate app began about a week ago, this time with a total of 21 users on both iOS and Android versions.  Users are located in the Tampa Bay area, as this is where we'll launch the app initially before expanding into new markets.

The primary goal for testing this time around is DESIGN.  We want to make sure we're creating an app that's not just easy on the eyes, but easy to use - all the way from initial signup down to searching for volunteer initiatives.  With that in mind, we've instructed our users to nitpick the crap out of us and tell us about ANY element of the app that could be more appealing, and/or more user-friendly.

We actually hit a big milestone last Saturday...the first ACTUAL initiative was participated in by a user!  We partnered with the Great American Cleanup to post their event in Pinellas Park on the app, and a user selected it, participated, and got credit for it.  The first of MANY to come!

Most of the initiatives posted during this phase will be just for test purposes, but that said we do have a few other actual ones posted right now.  Very exciting times for sure.

After Phase 2 testing is over (in 2-3 weeks), it'll be back to the grind as we incorporate users' suggested changes into the app's next version.  This process should take a few weeks as we want to make sure it's ready for Phase 3.  This third and final phase will be very important, as the app will host nothing but actual Initiatives.  We'll be working with MANY more nonprofits and other charitable organizations, so we have to make sure it's fully on point.

Why "Random" Acts of Kindness?

Random Acts of Kindness Day was last Saturday, on February 17th.  A great thing no doubt as there are countless stories around social media and the internet about people spreading peace and positivity to groups and individuals through these simple acts.  It really does not take much to brighten up someone's day, which often has a continuous positive effect on others.  Take these great examples:

High school students post positive messages on 5,000+ lockers

Senior citizens bake cookies for college students

Chicago police officers hand out coffee & pastries to early morning commuters

It's obviously an incredible thing that we have an entire day devoted to acts like this, but it brings up an interesting question: why can't random acts of kindness just be a natural thing?  Why do we have to "force" people to do them?

The fact is that in the crazy rat race that is 2018, sometimes we need a reminder.  We, personally, don't think there's anything wrong with this - or anything wrong with publicizing kindness, charity, or philanthropy in general.  In a perfect world, these things would happen naturally and there would be no need to make them public - but that's just not where we are as a society right now.

So our view is go ahead and keep making your good deeds public - and keep having things like Random Acts of Kindness Day.  Before you hesitate and worry that others might think you're bragging, stop for a second and realize that making your act "known" might have a positive effect on others.  Even if just one person sees it and is encouraged to perform a similar act, you've more than done your job.

And who knows...maybe one day these acts of kindness won't be so "random".