App developer recognized for increasing youth civic engagement
January 13, 2018
When prize-winning author and Canada Walk of Fame inductee Margaret Atwood is attracted to your work, rest assured you are on the right track and destined for greatness.
A juror in the Everyday Political Citizen contest and Writers’ Trust of Canada founder shortlisted Janelle Hinds for increasing youth civic engagement through Helping Hands which she established as an app that matches young people with volunteer opportunities based on their interests and promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) education in challenged communities.
“Janelle is supremely qualified as an Everyday Political Citizen,” said Atwood who invented and developed the LongPen and associated technologies that facilitate the remote robotic writing of documents. “She has founded and worked on so many programmes -- Helping Hands, Phase One and Daughters of the Vote -- to change the game positively, especially for those in STEM for who don't fit the standard image."
Established as a national charity in 2009, Samara Canada promotes political engagement through the Democracy Talks program and the Everyday Political Citizen project that celebrates the unsung heroes of Canadian democracy.
“The Everyday Political Citizen project recognizes how ordinary, unelected people can make a difference because they take the time to care about a cause, about a community and about something bigger than themselves,” said Samara Canada executive director Jane Hilderman.
In Grade Seven, Hinds made a commitment to be part of projects that would have a lasting positive impact on participants.
“I knew back then that if I wanted to do that, the best way would be to start an initiative that I know would make a difference in people’s lives,” the 2016 Harry Jerome Award winner pointed out.
In addition to being a platform that allows students to find suitable volunteer matches while showcasing their skills and verifying their experiences with schools and potential employers, Helping Hands offers opportunities to start a relationship between youths and non-profit organizations.
“Our focus is ensuring that young people, particularly those from challenged communities, are volunteering,” said Hinds. “Those parents that are well off socio-economically and are sitting on boards know where to tell their children to go. The parents who are working three jobs to take care of their families don’t have the time to help them navigate the system. That’s where we come in as the app allows students to know where they have to go to get the volunteer opportunities.”
Helping Hands also conduct workshops for racialized youths and newcomers to Canada to help them integrate in civic life.
Last year, the Ontario Trillium Foundation provided Helping Hands with a $210,000 grant over three years to offer volunteer training workshops for racialized and newcomer youths as well as young people with disabilities to increase volunteer opportunities and engagement in Halton-Peel's social services sector.
Hinds is very familiar with the benefits that come from volunteering.
“I used to stutter and I absolutely hated public speaking,” she said. “When I was in elementary school and I got wind I was under consideration to be the valedictorian, I talked them into not choosing me. It was only when I started volunteering that my communication skills improved and I became confident to stand up and speak in front of an audience.”
Helping Hands lead developer Tom Wolcott nominated Hinds for the Everyday Political Citizen contest.
“Janelle is an amazing young woman who has shown dedication to improving community,” he said.
A former Ryerson University research assistant, Hinds started developing Android and BlackBerry10 apps in 2012. Two years later as a fourth-year biomedical and electrical engineering student at McMaster University, she was selected from 630 applicants nationally for ‘The Next 36’ fifth cohort.
Supported by Canada’s leading entrepreneurs, ‘The Next 36’ provides world-class academic instruction, business mentorship and venture building to the country’s most promising business people.
While at McMaster where she was the university chapter National Society of Black Engineers program co-ordinator, Hinds started HackItMac which is a collaborative technology community of students from all faculties, and deltaHacks, North America’s first student-run hackathon for social innovation.
Last March, she was the Mississauga Centre delegate to the House of Commons as part of the Daughters of the Vote initiative organized by Equal Voice. She testified before the Status of Women Parliamentary Committee about the lack of women in non-traditional fields.