From left, Jessica Zinderman, Korie Scott, Annie Larkins, Rebecca Li, and Lauren Hayden.
From left, Jessica Zinderman, Korie Scott, Annie Larkins, Rebecca Li, and Lauren Hayden. (Courtesy photo)

Annie Larkins and her friends at Lime Kiln Middle School love to volunteer.

Whether it's with the Special Olympics or local church organizations, the girls have devoted a portion of their time to volunteering, and now they're hoping to make their classmates more aware of volunteer opportunities.

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Through the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, Annie and four friends — Jessica Zinderman, Korie Scott, Lauren Hayden and Rebecca Li — have designed a mobile app concept called VolunteerMe that connects students with volunteer opportunities in school and throughout the community.

"We love volunteering, but then we realized there are a lot of people who are our friends and they don't have these opportunities," Annie said. "We love volunteering and we love helping out. We want everyone to be able to share that love."

Annie and her teammates — all eighth-grade students— are now one step away from having an MIT Media Labs professional help them develop their app and share it with the school community.

On Jan. 20, Verizon announced that the Lime Kiln team had earned one of the 24 Best in Region awards in its third annual app challenge. As one of the 24 regional winners —12 each from middle and high schools — Lime Kiln has earned a $5,000 cash grant for its school to further develop or support a STEM program.

The girls will be notified in early February if they've been selected as a Best in Nation winner.

"These girls are just outstanding individuals," said Tracy Spillman, a Lime Kiln gifted and talented resource teacher who has served as the team advisor throughout the contest.

Spillman said much of the girls' work on this project was done outside of school since the girls are involved in multiple after-school activities.

This is the first year that Lime Kiln students have participated in the competition.

The Innovative App Challenge requires middle and high school student teams to design a mobile application concept that addresses a need or problem in their local school or community.

The challenge was created in partnership with the Technology Student Association in response to a critical need to inspire student interest in science, technology, engineering and math, according to a Verizon news release.

Verizon Wireless spokeswoman Melanie Ortel said contest participation has grown each year with more than 1,000 app concepts submitted nationwide this year.

She added that the Lime Kiln app concept has been well received since it correlates to Verizon's mentality of giving back to the community.

"We love the fact that the VolunteerMe app is helping to encourage volunteerism and giving back at an early age," she said.

Annie said the VolunteerMe app is designed to help students find volunteer opportunities, track their volunteer times and promote a friendly competition among friends with a leaderboard tracking volunteer points.

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She added that the team doesn't want this to become a social media site, rather a way to take pride in your own work. Other users won't have the ability to comment or like a user's volunteer activity.

"We don't want this to be a popularity contest. We just want to be a source of inspiration," Annie said.

On Feb. 3, four high school and four middle school teams will selected as Best in Nation winners, earning an additional $15,000 cash grant for their school from the Verizon Foundation to further develop or support a STEM-related program.

Each team member will also receive a Samsung tablet and a representative from the MIT Media Lab will give the team on site and virtual training on coding and app development to develop the team's app and make it a reality.

Apps that have been developed during the first two years of the competition have been downloaded more than 26,000 times from the Google Play store, according to a Verizon news release.

If selected as a Best in Nation winner, Annie said her teammates would like to start the app with a school-volunteering focus before expanding it countywide.

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