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Intern-built app connects Calgary youth with safety, wellness resources

East Calgary’s 12 Community Safety Initiative (12CSI) wanted to take a printed safety manual and give it life as an easy-to-use reference for city youth.

That’s where intrepid intern Ayah Zain-Alarab came in.

Zain-Alarab is coming up to her fourth year in the Children’s Studies program at Mount Royal University. She wants a career in helping youth, particularly around mental health and wellness issues.

This project, done over five months, was an ideal way to get exposure in that area, she said.

Zain-Alarab and 12 CSI executive director Larry Leach brainstormed the best way to get a safety manual, recently printed for Forest Lawn students, into more hands.

“Larry had a youth safety manual, just like a paper copy. And he wanted something digital for youth, but he wasn’t entirely sure what that would be. Maybe a website, maybe an app,” Zain-Alarab said.

“Then, my eyes kind of lit up when I heard ‘as an app,’ too.”

The app – SafeEaseYYC – is loaded with safety resources that are neatly categorized and easily accessible for youth. It has connections with police or bylaw services, but also has links to clothing, food and shelter.

“Empowering youth with all the tools and information to impact their own safety is our goal,” said Leach.

He said one of the tenets of 12CSI is education. Developing this app was a perfect fit that blended information and access for area youth.

The app process

Zain-Alarab admittedly isn’t a techie. She was happy to learn and develop the product using a variety of tools on the internet. Her network of friends and family, some of whom had IT and app experience, helped adapt and refine the product.

Market research was done with local youth. Would they use it? What information did they want to see? How do they keep themselves safe online?

“The results were pretty positive that they would be interested in that,” Zain-Alarab said.

“So then that kind of gave me and Larry the green light that an app could be a safe bet.”

Simplicity was key for Zain-Alarab. It couldn’t be cumbersome to use otherwise it wouldn’t get used at all.

“I tried to make it as simple as possible where (youth) can just easily access that information without feeling overwhelmed,” she said.

Leach said there was very little funding. It was driven by the hard work of practicum students like Zain-Alarab. The team was able to secure a $500 grant after the app was built to cover application and submission expenses.

Zain-Alarab said the experience was invaluable for her. Not only did she break down tech barriers, but she also got to help build a project that developed skills for her career.

“I think a big skill I learned was resourcefulness.  There’s just so much you can take from other organizations or other people’s skills,” she said.

“I think it takes a community to build something really unique in that sense.”

The app is currently available on Android in the Google app store. It will soon be available on iOS.