Over the weekend, I volunteered at an event called Cleveland Give Camp. I would consider this my second social-impact hackathon, though it had a very different dynamic from GiveBackHackCLE. While the focus of Give Back Hack was on spontaneity and inspiration to drive individuals to pitch ideas for development or join in others’ efforts, Give Camp selects existing nonprofits from the community to help them establish or improve their online presence and service platforms.

Some people do literally camp outside of the venue during Give Camp weekend. This may be part of the reason I felt so comfortable there. It could also be that the entire event had a warm, collaborative vibe. Teams are pre-assigned based on what the nonprofits will need & which skills the volunteers register. My team consisted of two WordPress specialists, two computer science students, a skilled project manager, and two representatives from the nonprofit Cleveland Christian Home, an organization dedicated to rehabilitation services for boys struggling through abuse, trauma, or a variety of mental illnesses. Their passion for service was moving and the stories they shared made the project all the more fulfilling.

Though I’ve had personal blogs and portfolios on WordPress for the past 10 years and did check out a few WordPress developer meetups, I hadn’t ever considered WordPress to be more than a pretty face. In seeing the struggles other teams had when they ran up against the limitations of relational databases in WordPress, the message that there was some depth to that rabbit hole was driven home. It seemed like those projects would’ve been easily handled by Django’s back end handlers, but it took heavy support from the event organizers to complete that particular project. Theming for a pretty front end is so easy on WordPress that it reels you in, but it really does seem to suffer some limitations as a trade-off for that low barrier to entry.

Our project, however, was a clearly defined lift & shift. The CEO did not feel that the site was welcoming, so we worked in a nicer theme. They also wanted forms for job applications on the site, so we installed (and taught them to use) a form-builder plugin.

In short, I found Cleveland Give Camp 2018 to be a worthwhile experience. The impact and collaboration far outweighed the temporary strain of a long weekend. Other areas conduct Give Camps independently so there’s no central site I can send you to for information if you’re interested, but check the interwebs to find one near you.


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