The Irvine-based nonprofit Team Kids aims to “empower children to change the world.” Its flagship program, the five-week Team Kids Challenge, encourages elementary school children to learn about a critical community issue — such as homelessness, hunger or illiteracy — and to work with local leaders to help address it. Since 2001, Team Kids founder and CEO Julie Hudash has worked to “give young people the opportunity to tackle today’s most critical issues and encourage them to become the next generation of compassionate leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists.”
An important component of the Team Kids Challenge is volunteer mentors who visit the schools to help teach participants about leadership and teamwork. To that end, the nonprofit collaborates with UCI’s School of Education and Department of Social Ecology to train and mobilize students to serve as mentors. More recently, a partnership has also formed between Team Kids and UCI’s Department of Informatics in an effort to raise program awareness and encourage continued involvement through a new Team Kids mobile app.
The seeds of this partnership were planted in a University Studies class — US 10: Introduction to Civic and Community Engagement, taught by Informatics Professor Gillian Hayes. “The class was sponsored by a group called the Philanthropy Lab that donates money to universities to teach philanthropy and to then have the students give that money away,” says Hayes. “Julie’s team came and talked about their program and about supporting kids in OC more generally.”
The class, impressed by the program, awarded $10,000 to Team Kids, while Hayes, similarly impressed, ended up joining the board of directors. “I was really inspired both by their overall mission and by their emphasis on evidence-based decision-making and on measuring program impact,” explains Hayes. And as she learned more about the Team Kids partnership with UCI, she couldn’t help but ask, “Why aren’t we also working with the informatics students?”
Hudash welcomed the idea, so Hayes introduced her to Informatics Lecturer Darren Denenberg, who helps coordinate and teach Informatics 191 A/B: Senior Design Project. The two-quarter capstone course gives students hands-on experience working on a real-world project, and Denenberg invited Hudash to talk with students enrolled for the Winter/Spring 2018 session. “I shared that what we needed most was to increase visibility and find a strategy to keep our Team Kids participants engaged in service after completing the school program,” notes Hudash.
Soon after, Team Alpha Beta Python was formed, and Andrew Blake, Eric Chou, Byron Padilla, Atrina Pebdani and Ricky Shields started collaborating with Team Kids to design the new app. “The team was made up of five extremely talented and passionate ICS Informatics students who truly cared about their capstone project, beyond simply getting a high grade,” says Hudash.
“It was an awesome experience,” says Hudash. “The students were patient with me, as I didn’t have the technical knowledge to truly know what we needed or how to address our most pressing needs through the development of the app.”
Denenberg explains that when sponsors aren’t sure of what they want or need, he views it as an opportunity for the students and tells them to “take the project and run with it!” Team Alpha Beta Python was able to do just that, driving the project and helping Hudash flesh out her vision. “We really enjoy working with nonprofits such as Team Kids,” says Denenberg. “We’re always excited for opportunities to bring them into the capstone and help them achieve their goals.”
The students met several times at the Team Kids headquarters, learning about the mission and programs. Then they designed a Team Kids mobile app that lets parents and children register for the program, view and submit challenges (such as organizing a food drive or visiting a local fire station) and earn badges for completed challenges.
“Getting to work with Team Kids for our capstone project was a rewarding experience,” says Blake, who graduated in Spring 2018 and is now working at Zillow as an IT support specialist. “Not only did we have the opportunity to refine our skills by working on a real-world project, but we also gained the satisfaction of knowing what we worked on would be helping them achieve their vision of empowering children across the nation.”
Padilla, who will be graduating from UCI this winter, agreed. “Team Kids was a great organization to work with,” he said. “The passion that Julie has for her cause is contagious, and it certainly made an impact on my team’s morale and work ethic.” Padilla also noted that after years of taking courses in which he was told exactly how to complete a project, having more freedom in designing the project was challenging yet refreshing.
According to Hudash, it was a “a fantastic team of passionate students who listened, asked questions and helped develop what will become a great app for Team Kids.” In fact, she has already registered as a sponsor for the upcoming Fall class. “The app is ready for the next cohort of students to further develop it!”
Hudash hopes that the Team Kids app can be fully developed by students and that future teams can add features and make the app more robust. She’d like to include an “about the developers” page, explaining that the app is an ongoing project created by UCI’s Informatics students.
“I am just so grateful for the countless ways the leadership and students at UCI continue to invest in our collaborative mission to educate and inspire all our young people, from kindergarten to graduate school!”
For more information about Team Kids, contact Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Shani Murray