the dWELLing Houston GiveCamp Q&ALeft to right: the dWELLing founders Ladd Hight, Mary Poston, Katie Smart, Kristen Hubert, and Alexis Cordova (Father Ted Smith, absent but noted below)

It’s that time of year! ‘Tis the season for GiveCamp, when developers and designers in different cities donate their weekends to help nonprofits scale their missions. We love it because we get to leverage what we’re really good at to make a real impact on the communities we care about. In Austin, Headspring volunteers just wrapped up a weekend working with organizations like Dance Another World, Mexic-Arte Museum, Colin’s Hope, and many more on some mission-critical projects.

This year, Headspring is hosting Houston GiveCamp, which will run from April 26 to 28. Among our non-profit partners is the dWELLing, an organization that impressed us with their vision for pooling their individual passions and talents to become a force for good. Based in Liberty, TX, the dWELLing emerged in 2018 with the mission of providing an open, safe space for worship, education, activities, and events that support and unite their community. The vision encompasses an open green space, a community garden, a coffee shop, a yoga studio, counselors, and classes on everything from healthy cooking to parenting and budgeting.

Designed to be both an active forum and a safe haven for all, the dWELLing has a vast audience to engage: “The searching and the satisfied, the haves and the have-nots, the broken and the whole.” Like many burgeoning nonprofits, however, the founders are laser-focused on their mission, resources are limited, and technology doesn’t happen to be a core area expertise. However, the power of custom technology to help them build both community and momentum has not been lost on the team. That’s why they were so excited to partner with GiveCamp to fill some of those gaps and get set for a brighter future. We had the pleasure of talking to founding member Mary Poston about the dWELLing’s vision, technology challenges in the nonprofit sector, and her hopes for this GiveCamp engagement.

Can you tell us a little bit about the dWELLing and how you got started?

Hailing from various walks of life, our founding team members were united by the dream that there could be more to life than just surviving. They include:

  • Katie Smart, Certified Yoga Teacher: A weary mom who, ten years ago, began dreaming of ways to help others struggling in early motherhood. She envisions a safe place for souls to rest and recover.
  • Mary Poston, Family Practice Physician Assistant: A primary care clinician tired of treating seemingly endless chronic diseases and eager to encourage prevention and wellness within the community.
  • Father Ted Smith, Rector of St Stephen’s Episcopal Church: A priest empathetic to his congregation’s needs and a heart for lifting the community into the abundant life he believes Christ came to give us.
  • Alexis Cordova, County Extension Agent for Family and Community Health: A newly widowed and now single mom, and a community leader working with various health coalitions and recovery efforts. Feeling burdened by the needs she’s discovered, she’s certain that she can provide the knowledge and training to address them.
  • Ladd Hight, Better Living for Texans Nutrition Assistant: A hopeful soul looking for a way to renew vitality in the community in which he grew up. He wants to channel the power that strong community and relationships bring to any life.
  • Kristen Hubert, Medical Assistant at Firm Foundations Healthcare Clinic: A medical assistant and single mom who has a heart for helping people. She longs to create a better tomorrow by providing access to resources for mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.

Our team members all share the belief that life is better when resources come together in collaboration and community-building. We began to imagine what that could look like: A wellness journey, a place to dwell. This past year, the timing was right, and doors faithfully opened to allow our dream to come to life.

What are some of the challenges you’re currently facing? Any ones you anticipate down the road?

Uniting people from different walks of life, backgrounds, and cultures is an inherent challenge that we face, as well as keeping multiple parties involved and unified as we grow. We are confident that building a strong culture and community with a robust set of technology tools will help this! A well-running, easily-navigated website that communicates our mission will engage and connect the community in unified efforts to re-imagine wellness.

What tools are you using now? How can new technology help you reach your immediate goals?

We have the start of a website, thedWELLing.life, which will include a blog, as well as a Facebook group, a Survey Monkey, and Google suite. We’re also in the process of starting a podcast, group emails, group messenger streams, and slideshows at the Gathering (our weekly worship service). We’re also developing PowerPoint presentations for Voices Matter, a program at the high school that focuses on identifying mental health risk factors.

We have several ideas on how to use technology to advance our mission: We’re hoping to develop a resource database that can help us gather volunteer capabilities and needs, then find a way to match them. We would like to pursue the ability to send text surveys at our events to gather more honest feedback from attendees on what they would like seen or done in our space. We would love to develop a way to apply GracEconomics to our services, which allows people to pay based upon their abilities and offer payment in other currencies (such as volunteer work). We’re also excited to enhance the impact of the dWELLing brand by creating a cohesive look and experience across all visual platforms.

Most of all, we want to use technology to help mobilize our community. Technology is the portal that will bring us closer to the public and our community by enabling us to share information in a noninvasive way. We seek to build relationships with the individuals we want to reach, and technology bridges the gap as the first step. It allows those that want to expand their knowledge of our mission and activities to follow our journey, but gives them the freedom to choose their level of involvement without the pressure of committing until they are ready.

Have you experienced a gap in the availability of tools and technology within the nonprofit sector at large?

Between the six of us, we’ve logged quite a bit of experience with non-profits over the years. We’ve been members of community advisory boards, agricultural organizations, local and global health programs, church-led organizations, and more. We’ve definitely felt the lack of an integrative way to easily donate, volunteer, or register. We’ve also noticed that there’s really no method to easily and automatically generate a tax-deductible receipt for folks who make a donation. Most churches also lack the capability of tithing online.

What’s causing these technology gaps and how can we fill them, in your opinion?

I think non-profits often either underestimate the importance of technology to their missions or lack the insight on what a powerful tool it can be. There is likely an equal lack of imagination and of knowledge or exposure to impactful technology. Perhaps getting the word out to more decision-makers (such as church leaders and service organizations) would help. The gap could also be due to a lack of communication between those noticing the need and those capable of filling that need. This observation makes me particularly happy that you asked this question! It shows we are both taking a step in the right direction. I think it is brilliant—and key—that your company hosts an entire weekend during which the minds and hearts behind various non-profits are actually in the room engaging with the minds and hearts of people who make the technology happen.

What, specifically, are you hoping to gain from GiveCamp?

Our main hope is to walk away with a visually pleasing, easily navigated, compelling website that keeps our vision moving in the right direction and provides a digital hub for ideas, needs, and provision. We’re also hopeful that we’ll walk away with a strong start on our branding that will cross all digital and paper footprints—and possibly even a catchy tagline. We’re eager for knowledge on how to maintain the website, and for tips for how to make it as successful as possible. For example, how often do we blog or post updates for maximum success? Another helpful takeaway would be letterhead/logo templates that we can use for marketing and communicating our purpose, including areas for coordinating infographics for pertinent data.

What appeals to you most about working collaboratively with a technically strong team?

Our team has many different strengths, but tech knowledge is not really one of them! We are dreamers. We know we’ll need expert knowledge in the technology field to fill the gaps where we lack experience in order to bring this dream into fruition. The sky is really the limit on what might happen once the thinkers and the dreamers are together in one room!

Are there any concerns you have going in?

I can really only think of one: that we’ve either dreamed too little or too large in terms of what is possible. My hope is to go into the weekend with eyes and hands open. We are extremely excited and grateful for this opportunity.

What are your plans to scale, and how will having the right technology in place get you there?

The dWELLing will definitely grow in stages: from events and gatherings to more dedicated spaces for services to building out larger health wellness facilities.

We are certain that needs will continue to arise as our ultimate vision unfolds. For example, I foresee a living calendar to track dates and events as these activities and offerings expand. I expect there are also needs ahead that we can not possibly foresee. However, having the right technology platforms, designed with our vision in mind, will help us to add features and expand as we grow.

The technology we’re developing will also encourage supporters to follow our progress and feel a part of it as it happens. It will help us continue to gather real data about what the community needs most and will provide and place for members to mentally gather, even before the physical space is ready.

I am delighted to see how the union of the dWELLing and GiveCamp will allow us to stretch our imaginations into the realm of what’s possible when the capabilities of both of our teams unite.

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