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Civic ‘Hackathon’ Comes to Springfield June 6-7

SPRINGFIELD — As part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, more than 100 people with a variety of computer-technology skills are expected to participate in the Hack for Western Mass. (H4WMA) being held at the UMass Center at Springfield on June 6 and 7.

This ‘hackathon’ will connect these ‘techies’ with more than a dozen nonprofit organizations from throughout the Pioneer Valley to create web­based solutions to help them have greater impact on their communities. Participants are being actively sought; the website www.hackforwesternmass.org is available for information, registration, and sponsorship opportunities.

“Civic hackers are a generous breed,” said H4WMA co­organizer Steven Brewer, director of the Biology Computer Resource Center at UMass Amherst, noting that the hackthon is entering its third year. “The first was held at UMass Amherst in 2013. Last year’s was held in Holyoke. This year, we wanted it in Springfield.”

A hackathon is a gathering of people — many with computer-technology skills but also project managers, scribes, presentation preparers, designers, and social-media mavens — who come together to code collaboratively in a short period of time, usually a weekend, to create IT­based solutions to local problems. More than three dozen local nonprofits have benefited or will benefit from this annual day of local civic hacking.

“It’s a great opportunity to apply local talent to local challenges,” said Bram Moreinis, another H4WMA co­organizer, who ran Tech Scouts in Greenfield last summer.

The organizers, who also include Elyssa Serrilli, a lead mentor for the Full Moon Girls program of the Vermont Wilderness School, and Cristos Lianides­Chin, a FileMaker developer at inRESONANCE in Northampton, have been meeting for months to get ready for this weekend. “It takes a lot of planning to pull this together — recruit project managers, nonprofits, sponsors, and participants; do all the outreach; and set up all the technology” noted Serrilli.

Added Lianides-Chin, “there are many details to keep track of and people to engage to bring it to fruition. We’ve been meeting weekly in person and almost daily online for months. Online collaboration tools have come a long way.”

Participating nonprofits include United Way of Pioneer Valley, Square One, Suit Up Springfield, Springfield Parking Authority, Gardening the Community, DIAL/SELF, Lyme Disease Resource Center, LightHouse Personalized Education for Teens, Permaculture Practitioners in the Northeast, Smith College, Full Moon Girls, and Pioneer Valley Local First.

“This hackathon is such a novel way of helping our regional nonprofit organizations,” said LaTonia Naylor, manager of community impact at United Way of Pioneer Valley. “We’re thrilled on two levels. We’ve submitted a challenge that will help us with engaging the volunteers that give their time to many area nonprofits, and many area nonprofits will benefit from the solutions that emerge.”

The organizers also want to engage youth in information technology and offer a youth hackathon running in parallel to the main event.

Sponsors of the event to date include UMass Amherst’s Center for Public Policy and Administration, Atalasoft, Communicate Health, App­o­Mat, FIT Solutions, Last Call Media, Mad POW, inRESONANCE, AmherstMedia.org, the UMass Center at Springfield, and the Springfield Parking Authority.

For more information and to register or sponsor, visit hackforwesternmass.org or contact Cristos Lianides­Chin at [email protected].

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