AWS Public Sector Blog

re:Invent 2019 Nonprofit Hackathon for Good crowns winner to support mental and emotional well-being nonprofit

re:Invent 2019 hackathon for good finalists

re:Invent 2019 Nonprofit Hackathon for Good finalists

At the re:Invent 2019 Nonprofit Hackathon for Good, sponsored by Accenture Business Group, more than 150 re:Invent attendees put their minds together to develop solutions for real-world challenges from four nonprofits: Best Friends Animal Society, SkyTruth, Urban Institute, and Vibrant Emotional Health.

The winning team pitched a solution on how to build personalized safety plans for people calling Vibrant Emotional Health’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Winning team members Edward Fox, Hamid Jizan, Joe Hillhouse, Rick Hoxie, and Vinit Patankar built a solution using Amazon API Gateway, AWS Lambda, Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS), and Amazon Connect. Their solution will provide callers and crisis counselors enhanced safety planning with follow-up capabilities. Because of the sensitive nature of calls, the team built a workflow that gives callers the ability to opt-in to follow-up texts.

Vibrant Emotional Health hackathon winner architecture

The four nonprofits and the challenges are:

1. Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society is a leading national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in the United States animal shelters. Learn more about Best Friends Animal Society’s journey on AWS and read about how they’ve gone “all-in” on AWS as the standard for machine learning workloads.

The challenge? Help build a new platform called Saving Noses is Fundamental (SNIF), which reunites pets lost during disasters with their families. SNIF should be a mobile-friendly application that makes pet-family reunification possible by empowering pet owners and rescuers to create and access data-rich profiles about cherished animals. SNIF should be easy-to-use, especially in a high-stress disaster scenario and built using advanced techniques including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics.

“Using cloud technologies allows us to focus more on our mission without worrying about the underlying stuff. Ultimately, AWS has saved us money, and every dollar matters in a nonprofit. The cloud has helped us scale well and quickly,” said Brent Bain, Lead Cloud Architect at Best Friends Animal Society. “During Hurricane Harvey [that hit Texas and Louisiana in 2017], we saw first-hand the manual process of reuniting animals with their owners – with no technical behind it. People printed out thousands of flyers to post around neighborhoods. At NRG Arena, there was a wall with flyers of thousands of animals, and seeing people having to go there to find their animal on that wall, you wanted to fix it right then and there. Having an event like this – seeing what solutions and proof of concepts these teams come up with – will kick start the whole thing.”

Karl Ruetz, Manager of Software Development at Best Friends Animal Society said, “Through this hackathon, we get access to the imaginations of 150 people – people not stuck in our paradigm. They’re coming up with something different than us, and very valuable to us.”

2. SkyTruth

SkyTruth hopes to stop pollution in the ocean so marine ecosystems and coastal communities can thrive.

The challenge? Build the key components of a platform that will monitor the entire ocean, all the time, and empower citizens, law enforcement, NGOs, and even retailers to work to bring polluters to justice. You can choose to either build models that reliably detect oil slicks at sea and identify the polluters, demonstrate a global-scale data analytics infrastructure using their data, or design engaging interfaces that make everyone an ocean warrior.

John Amos, President of SkyTruth said, “The big challenge we face at SkyTruth is scaling the solutions we come up with so that we can apply that not just to 10, 20, 30 satellite images, but to 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 images. Because our goal is to monitor the environment around the world not just on land, but in the ocean. And the data is coming for that.”

3. Urban Institute

Urban Institute aims to create affordable housing roadmaps for cities struggling with displacement and gentrification. Read more about the mission of Urban Institute and why they chose a cloud-first strategy with AWS.

The challenge? Create a generalizable methodology that takes satellite, LIDAR, and building footprint data input and outputs to predict building heights. Unfortunately, Urban Institute lacks the foundational data needed on the kinds of buildings in different cities. They need a dataset that will allow research organizations and cities to create data-driven, affordable housing plans, monitor neighborhood change, and create early warning systems for gentrification and displacement.

Vivian Zheng, Data Scientist at Urban Institute said, “We solve policy issues with evidence – data is important. With large amounts of data coming in, a local machine can’t handle it in short amount of time. We need the cloud to help increase our capabilities, and make what we do scalable, flexible, and also cost-effective.”

4. Vibrant Emotional Health

Vibrant works with individuals and families to help them achieve mental and emotional well-being. Their solutions deliver high-quality services and support, when, where and how they’re needed.

The challenge? Develop a service that builds personalized safety plans for people calling the Lifeline, a national suicide prevention help line. Safety plans empower callers to identify when they may be at risk, how to cope, and how to get help whenever they need it. This service will allow counselors to easily create the plan in real-time with the caller and give the person calling the Lifeline an engaging tool that they can reference and customize independently. This service should provide access to a safety plan and resources without requiring contact information.

David Koosis, CIO and CTO at Vibrant said, “We want to leave someone with something to use after the call, developing a strategy or plan that memorialized the conversation and gives them something to build on in the future.”

Frances Gonzalez, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Vibrant said, “The hackathon is a great opportunity for us to reach out to a creative community to come up with new tools and resources that help people that might be in crisis. We want to discover new ways to prevent suicide and empower people to find resources and get support whenever they need it.”


Last year’s winning hackathon solution went live this year on Giving Tuesday. Learn more about the solution that benefitted GameChanger Charity.

Read more about other AWS public sector hackathons. And stay tuned to the re:Invent Hackathons and Jams website for details on next year’s re:Invent hackathons.