Kitchener-Waterloo

2 teens use their disaster relief app to give gifts to seniors in Waterloo

Two high school students have developed a disaster relief app to connect donors, organizations and people in need. To test it out, this month they're using the app to get gifts for seniors in Waterloo nursing homes.

High school students hope community will help them test app and help seniors at same time

Leya Oommen, left, and Ellen Brisley have taken part in the Technovation global girls coding challenge. They've created a disaster relief app, but they're testing it out by connecting members of the community with seniors in Waterloo as a gift giving app this month. (Photo provided by Ellen Brisley)

Two teens who are taking part in a global coding challenge are hoping to use what they've learned to benefit seniors in Waterloo this holiday season.

Leya Oommen is a Grade 10 student at Waterloo Collegiate and Ellen Brisley is a Grade 10 student at Cameron Heights. They're friends and joined the Technovation global girls coding challenge together more than three years ago.

Part of the challenge is developing an app that fixes a problem they see in the world, then they create a business plan and pitch the app.

The app they made is for disaster relief. Basically, it allows people who need help after a natural disaster to sign up and say what they need. Then organizations can see exactly what help is being requested in a specific region. Donors can make a financial contribution, but then they get updates through the app about where their money is going.

The idea came while Oommen was in India visiting her family. There was flooding in the community and her family wanted to help, but they weren't sure what to send.

"I got to see first-hand what disaster relief was like and it was chaotic and people really did want to help but didn't know what to give or where to give resources. So it was just really crazy," Oommen said. "The right people weren't getting help because people didn't know where to help them."

The community can follow the progress of the app through an Instagram account the two students set up.

Connecting donors with seniors

Now, the two teens are testing out the app, and they've connected with the Village at University Gates and Chartwell in Waterloo to help connect the community to seniors.

The seniors have put their desired gift into the system and now donors can go on the website Oommen and Brisley developed to see what is needed. People can either buy the gift themselves and drop it off with Oommen and Brisley on Dec. 11, or they can donate money.

"We understand that seniors are in isolation. They can't really get gifts from their family or can't go out and buy stuff for themselves. So we decided to kind of take advantage of the situation and fit our app into a low risk situation. And so it's pretty small scale. We've asked about 45 residents what gifts they'd like," Brisley said.

Brisley says her own grandfather is in a long-term care home in France, so switching the app to be able to help seniors was important to her.

"It's very difficult for my grandma to go see him. I had that in mind when we created this," she said.

Listen to the full interview with Leya Oommen and Ellen Brisley:

Leya Oommen is a Grade 10 student at Waterloo Collegiate and Ellen Brisley is a Grade 10 student at Cameron Heights. The two friends are also involved in the international Technovation challenge. They've created an app for disaster relief, but they're going to pilot it in a holiday project to provide gifts to seniors at a Waterloo nursing home. 7:25

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