YARMOUTH — The coronavirus pandemic has actually proven slightly fortuitous for Parker Harnett.
Forced to complete her schooling at home this spring, the rising Yarmouth High senior, who is normally busy, found she had much more time on her hands. She focused that time on creating a mobile phone application and filming a video that showed off her design, which she submitted to Tyler Technologies for the company’s 2020 Maine App Challenge.
Harnett’s creation scored her first place among 42 submissions Tyler received. She was joined at the top by two other Portland-area young women: Sarah Hagan of Cape Elizabeth High and fellow Yarmouth High student Elena Miller. Casco Bay High School in Portland received a $500 check for submitting the most eligible entries – 23 applications in all, according to the company.
“We are always impressed by the ideas and app development from these young students,” Chris Hepburn, president of Tyler’s Enterprise Group, said in a statement. “The Maine App Challenge continues to introduce young minds to a future in technology, and we are proud to support their continued education through scholarships.”
“It was so exciting” to have learned she came in first, Harnett said; she and the other two winners received college scholarships totaling $10,000, of which she got $6,000. “I worked really hard on (the app) and to have it be recognized is really cool for me.”
The app, “How to Help,” provides a way for people to donate money, time and other needed items. Organizations can register with the network, allowing Mainers to connect to causes they deem important.
“This app makes it really easy for students throughout Maine to connect with organizations that need volunteers,” Harnett said in her project video, posted on YouTube. “Students can also use the app to find homes for their new or used stuff that they would like to donate, like clothing, electronics and food. The app locates and displays organizations that need that specific item which the donor is looking to give away.”
The program provides a list of organizations to which people can donate money, such as those geared toward social justice, the environment, animal support, education, homeless support, hunger prevention, youth enrichment and community health.
The project was born out of a website, howtohelpinmaine.org, which Harnett created in 2018 with fellow Yarmouth High student Zoe Siegel. With Yarmouth High requiring students to perform some type of community service in order to graduate, the teens had a difficult time on many not-for-profit websites finding answers to questions such as whether high school students are accepted as volunteers and whether they can set their own schedule.
How to Help in Maine streamlined data from 58 organizations into one user-friendly website, which has received between 150-250 unique views each month, but it didn’t create quite the “buzz around student volunteering” for which Harnett had hoped, she said. Chatting with other student leaders at a conference last fall, she and Siegel were inspired to build an app based on their website in order to draw more youth attention and to create a network of student volunteers.
“This would help students see the larger picture of need in Maine and unite them in solving some of our state’s biggest problems,” Harnett said. By enrolling this past January in a course in coding at Southern Maine Community College, she learned how to create the app.
Harnett is continuing to develop the app to make it more accessible and dynamic, and she hopes for How to Help to be available on the Apple app store by the end of the year. She plans to pursue a pre-med track in college.
Hagan, who received second place, created “Physics Phone a Friend,” through which students are helped with physics. The app’s calculator allows students to input known values for kinematic equations, according to Tyler.
Miller’s submission, “Scoregenix,” keeps a scorebook for baseball and softball games.
“The user enters the result of each pitch and the app keeps track of all statistics during the game,” according to Tyler. “After the game is finished, the user can export the scoresheet to an Excel spreadsheet.”
“I just thought it was really cool that the top three winners were young women,” Harnett said. “I was super excited to find that out.”