Calgary woman hoping to build a community with new volunteer app
A Calgary woman is on a mission to help connect local non-profits with much-needed volunteers.
Alice Lam works in commercial real estate by day and spends most of her free time volunteering for various causes.
“They all basically have one thing in common, and that’s making lives better for Calgarians,” Lam says.
Lam has also played an integral role in revitalizing the courtyard of downtown’s historic firehall. Several events were held in the space this year, including a children’s Christmas party this past weekend.
Lam hopes attending the events will help inspire the younger generation.
“I just want these kids to remember having fun and being a part of [a] community so that when they grow up, they want to pitch in, too,” she says.
A volunteer passion project
Lam is looking forward to 2023 and celebrating the five-year anniversary of her passion project, Volly, which connects locals with volunteer opportunities.
The idea for the project was spawned around 2014 after Lam moved back to Calgary.
Her career had taken her to France and New York and she was looking forward to re-immersing herself in the Calgary community.
Lam struggled to find volunteer opportunities and found it difficult to get communication from non-profits.
Upon talking to her peers in their 20s and 30s, Lam says many were interested in volunteering but didn’t know where to start.
“I figured there would be a better way to kind of organize all of this and make it easier and more attractive for people to volunteer. So I had an idea to create basically a swiping app for volunteering,” she says.
Starting with a website
Lam was eventually referred to Civic Tech YYC—a community-based group with a goal of leveraging technology for the public good.
A volunteer team coded a simple first version of the Volly website, an easier undertaking than coding a mobile app.
“We’re all volunteers and so we do as much as we can with the resources that we have,” Lam says, adding they continued to work on the website for about a year and a half before launching the first version in 2018.
Two more versions of the website have been released since then and the team is now working on the fourth.
Since it launched, thousands of people have used the website to find volunteer opportunities.
With Volly’s success, Lam was determined to see her idea of an app come to fruition.
Building the app from scratch
Thanks to a lot of hard work from the team, including a young coder who built the app from scratch, the first version of the Volly app is now a reality.
Lam is glad she never gave up on the idea.
“As a team of volunteers, we decided to keep going despite having limited resources, we’re able to today say that we have something to show for it,” she says.
In the new year, Lam and her team will continue the work to merge the new application with the existing databases.
After that, Lam hopes to work with IncluCity Calgary to test the app with the population she is trying to reach, work out the kinks, and tweak things based on user experience.
“You really never know until you have your hands on it and you start using it to see… the functionality and design and user experience that would be the most effective,” Lam says.
More than just an app
Volly is more than just an app, Lam says—the goal is to build a community.
She wants Volly to be a one-stop shop for anything community-related and a way for volunteers to connect with non-profits and each other.
“It’s right there on your phone, you have notifications. And beyond just finding volunteer opportunities, we’re going to be adding financial literacy and civic literacy information, health literacy as well, event listings, and kind of just creating a community,” Lam says.
“We have a lot of big dreams for what we can do in the future in terms of ID verification, and police checks or credit checks.”
Volly has also hosted more than 200 community events over the past few years, all volunteer-run.
“It wouldn’t be possible if people didn’t show up,” Lam says, adding Volly is always looking for volunteers, advice, and feedback.
“We love connecting with companies and schools and different groups to tell our story. If anybody has an idea that they want to execute that would make Calgary better and more inclusive, I’m always happy to share my experience.”
Building a more inclusive city
Lam believes volunteering helps to build a more inclusive city.
“I’m a firm believer [that] our city’s never good enough until we’re able to lift everybody up and increase the standard of living for the most vulnerable in our city,” she says.
“And so through volunteering, we’re able to not only help move the needle a little bit but also educate each other on policy shortfalls that exist.”
Lam will continue to be an advocate for volunteering, which has done so much for her.
“I love learning about my community and just seeing the impact that you can have,” she says.
“You learn a lot about different populations, about different places in the city that you’ve never maybe encountered in your daily life.”