New website links community services to those in need
by Andrew Shilling
Sep 23, 2014 | 3827 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jobs and Business Academy manager Lauren Comito gives a first-hand look at the new WhereInQueens website.
Jobs and Business Academy manager Lauren Comito gives a first-hand look at the new WhereInQueens website.
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Kelvin Watson and interim library president Bridget Quinn-Carey check out the new WhereInQueens website at Central Library last week.
Kelvin Watson and interim library president Bridget Quinn-Carey check out the new WhereInQueens website at Central Library last week.
slideshow
Following a recent visit to the last South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin this past March, the Central Library’s Jobs and Business Academy manager Lauren Comito discovered a new way to digitally engage the community.

It was there where the Queens Library representative - originally assigned to present at the festival - discovered Zendesk, a Copenhagen-based software company dedicated to connecting businesses and customers through technology.

“When I met these guys, it was awesome,” Comito recalled.

After extensive meetings with Zendesk and discussing their program, Comito and the library found a way to upgrade the previous award-winning Community Resources Database of the late 1990’s with a new web-based system readily linking users to nearby faith-based and community-based organizations.

Now, just six months after her first meeting with the company, the WhereInQueens website has been launched to do just that.

“When people are looking for work, there’s a lot of different barriers for finding work when you don’t have a place to live and to take a shower,” Comito said. “The library serves as the perfect place to serve those needs so they can go and make their lives better, find work and start learning how to get rid of those stressful things and find a job.”

Comita and the Library’s Jobs and Business Academy took on five CUNY interns this summer to make hundreds of phone calls to homeless shelters, hospitals and law offices to upload the framework of the website.

Today, www.WhereInQueens.org is online and GPS-activated with nearly 400 of those services readily available for users anywhere in the borough.

Jamaica resident Precious Edwards had a chance to test out the new website last week at a special workshop with the website founders at Central Library on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica.

“It has been so resourceful for me,” Edwards said, adding that she has already used the program to locate nearby food pantries. “It directs me to their website, so it shows me where the location is and the telephone number.”

Edwards said she prefers the site to searching for community services on Google, many of which she said are often unlisted or difficult to find.

“I think it’s more unique because it’s a one-stop shop,” she explained. “Everything is there, it’s very user friendly and it’s not giving me millions of websites that I would have to sift through. That way I can instantly get help.”

Mikkel Svane first helped design the portal used for WhereInQueens in San Francisco for a site called Link-SF, which connects the homeless with surrounding available services.

“We provide the framework and the program that makes it easier to search and look up where (services) are,” Svane said. “We target to a bunch of different organizations.”

Since its launch in February 2014, the Zendesk framework in San Francisco has an estimated 60 people on the site every day. Just last month the site received 2,000 unique visitors.

“It came from just wanting to engage with the community,” he said. “It was like, 'how can we help?' What can we do that can actually have some use for people?”

Although the site was built through services and by staffers at the library, the website is available anywhere there is web and GPS access.

Kelvin Watson, vice president of Digital Services and Strategy at Queens Library, explained that the partnership with the library is important because it can effectively relay these services to the people who need it the most.

“We also have WiFi, so if you’re inside the library you can access this,” Watson said. “The library is a community hub, so it is certainly providing resources and services to our community and the customers we serve.”
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