By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – A free app that connects people with community resources is now available in central Nebraska, thanks to a partnership with the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
MyLink, which provides information about a variety of services offered by nonprofit organizations and government agencies, recently expanded to Adams, Buffalo, Dawson and Hall counties using funding and support from UNK.
The brainchild of Bryan Seck, director of workforce development at the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development, MyLink was created in 2017 as a way to consolidate and provide easy access to information about local resources.
The app features 14 different categories – hotlines and emergency phone numbers, children and family, COVID-19, disability services, domestic violence, education, employment, food, health, housing, legal, military and veterans, senior services and transportation – along with a searchable database, interactive map and daily calendar that allows users to see when and where food distribution and health care services are available.
MyLink has been downloaded over 10,000 times in Lincoln, with more than 1,000 monthly users. It was developed by Don’t Panic Labs in partnership with Leadership Lincoln and the Center for People in Need.
UNK faculty members Michelle Warren and Chandra Diaz, who previously lived in Lincoln, got involved with the project last spring after witnessing the lack of information available for non-English speakers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One thing we were noticing in our communities is nobody knew what to do about COVID. Nobody knew where to go to get tested. Nobody had information in Spanish,” said Warren, an associate Spanish professor and chair of UNK’s graduate program in Spanish education.
Warren and Diaz, an associate dean and assistant professor in UNK’s Department of Teacher Education, saw firsthand how the pandemic was impacting Spanish speakers and other immigrant communities. Their students shared countless family stories and both educators were involved with a coalition that supported meatpacking plant workers.
“As advocates, we were determined to find a solution for all of the families who were struggling through this,” Warren said.
Supported by a $10,000 grant from UNK’s Office of Sponsored Programs, Warren and Diaz collaborated with Seck and Buffalo County Community Partners (BCCP) to bring the MyLink app to central Nebraska.
The UNK faculty worked closely with Buffalo County Community Partners Executive Director Denise Zwiener and data coordinator Matt Morris to gather information from different agencies, and BCCP also contributed CARES Act funding to hire additional staff for the project.
“Buffalo County Community Partners has done a fabulous job of bringing agencies together and creating a really acute awareness of the lack of information available for Spanish speakers in our area,” Warren said.
Erica Con of Lexington, formerly with UNK’s Women’s Center, and UNK students Claudia Taylor of Lincoln and Gracie Lopez of Hastings were hired to gather and input information and complete some of the translations. The MyLink app translates into Arabic, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.
Local nonprofits and service providers can add or update their information through the app or website, mylnk.app, or by contacting Con at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both platforms are updated regularly to ensure information is timely and accurate.
MyLink is available on the Google Play Store, Apple App Store or mylnk.app. Once it’s downloaded onto a smartphone, the app works without cellular or Wi-Fi service. When a user accesses a Wi-Fi connection, it automatically updates.
“In times of crisis, nobody should have to scramble to find help for basic needs,” Diaz said. “This mobile phone app gives access and safety for people who are busy surviving. We want Nebraskans to thrive, and this is our contribution.”
The app also allows users to search for services anonymously, an important safeguard for domestic violence victims or people looking for information on immigration issues or workers’ rights.
“When we’re working with people in vulnerable situations, we don’t want them to have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs that could expose them to possible legal or domestic issues,” Warren said.
UNK will continue to support the MyLink app in central Nebraska through 2021, but additional funding would be needed to extend the partnership beyond this year. It costs $7,000 to $8,000 annually to cover the expenses.
“We would really like to find an agency that will house this forever,” Warren said.
The MyLink app is also available to residents in the Sandhills counties of Blaine, Custer, Garfield, Greeley, Loup, Sherman, Valley and Wheeler through a partnership with Central Plains Center for Services in Broken Bow.