2013-07-26 / Community

Jess Klein Earns White House Honor

By Katie McFadden

Jessica Klein, a co-founder of Rockaway Help, was honored as a Champion of Change at special ceremony at the White House. Jessica Klein, a co-founder of Rockaway Help, was honored as a Champion of Change at special ceremony at the White House. Jessica Klein, a co-founder of Rockaway Help, an online Sandy information source for Rockaway, received a big honor from the White House. Klein was recognized as a Champion of Change for her civic hacking work.

Klein, a Rockaway native who currently lives in Brooklyn, is one of 15 individuals who were honored at a ceremony at the White House on July 23rd. The group was comprised of entrepreneurs, innovators, organizers and community leaders who have made a huge impact by building high-tech tools, starting programs and using new technology to assist their communities.

Several people have been given the Champion of Change honor in several categories. In April, many locals and volunteers were honored as Hurricane Sandy Champions of Change including Amanda Bickerstaff of UWSLoves, Ariel Creamer of Survivors Silver Lining, Erin Corcoran Daly of Operation Breezy Gut and Pump, Walter Meyer of Power Rockaway Resilience and Marcie Allen Van Mol of the Beach 119th Street Angels.

The latest Champion of Change ceremony, in which Klein was honored, was for leaders of open government and civic hacking. In her words, “civic hacking is all about mobilizing the local community to have a voice in identifying and solving hyper local problems. Rockawayites are natural civic hackers - we are great at complaining and also bootstrapping solutions!”

Klein was instrumental in helping journalists Jamie Jordan and Katie Honan create the Rockaway Help group, an online resource with more than 10,600 Facebook followers. Klein reached out to Honan and Jordan through social media on the night of Hurricane Sandy to share information. The trio has been sharing information with the community through Rockaway Help for almost nine months. Honan says that Klein brought her technology skills to the table and helped them develop the RockawayHelp.com site.

“She brought this really good tech aspect and showed us the benefits of using technology,” Honan said of Klein. “What our group strives in is using what we can do to help some people and she helped us with a lot of the technological challenges.”

One of Klein’s biggest contributions was a Hackathon event that was themed around building tools and apps for emergency preparedness and response. Held as part of National Day of Civic Hacking on June 1st, Rockaway Help’s Hackathon was the first of its kind in Rockaway. Klein brought together designers, engineers and Rockaway residents to identify problems and come up with technology solutions. Klein also led a community design workshop in April to lead up to the event.

“Six months later as response morphed into rebuilding, I led a community design workshop and hack jam to help identify tools and resources if a hurricane were to happen again. We came up with six prototypes ranging from volunteer coordination to disaster mapping.”

Klein says the tools that were developed during those events weren’t the most important aspect. “What's crucial is that we are starting to have conversations as a community that will empower us to be self-sufficient and resilient responders to this natural disaster through technology.”

Hackforchange.org had recognized the work that Klein did with Jordan and Honan and the work that she did to help Tulsa, Oklahoma to build tools for their search and rescue work. The group nominated Klein and encouraged her to apply for the honor.

“I was completely shocked and honored to receive this award,” Klein said when she found out she was chosen. “It also felt quite historic to see the White House publicly come out in this way to support the D.I.Y. civic engagement movement.”

Honan says Klein is very deserving of the Champions of Change honor. “When it really mattered, she used her skills and connections and ideas to help out her hometown. She definitely deserved it. She was on a panel with other tech people from around the country and she deserved to be there.”

In addition to her work with Rockaway Help, Klein is currently the Creative Lead of the Mozilla Open Badges project where she promotes openness and creativity in formal and informal learning environments and develops ways for people to design their own unique narrative around their credentials. She also created the Hackasaurus project., the Web X-Ray Goggles and Thimble tools to help teens learn how to code through hacking. Klein has worked at a variety of learning institutions over the last 10 years.

“Jess is a great example of someone who used her skills and has gone very far and is good at her own job, but she also utilized those skills to help her hometown.

“We are very proud of her,” Klein’s mother, Rose said.

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