U.Va. students start 'feel good' charitable app

Totem raises money for Charlottesville nonprofits

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Matthews said the app gives off a “feel good vibe.”

Lauren Hornsby | Cavalier Daily

Three University students have teamed up to launch an app called “Totem — The Feel Good Feed” in order to encourage the growth of a digitized community and generate excitement around local Charlottesville nonprofits.

Co-founder and third-year Law student PJ Harris said Totem was inspired by the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which was a popular way for social media users to connect with a charitable cause they might not have known about before the viral movement.

“I came up with it in the summer of 2014 when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was going on, and then I was looking for teammates that I thought would be effective in growing it and making it have a bigger impact at U.Va.,” Harris said.

The development team now includes four co-founders and an intern, all working to develop and expand the app into the University and Charlottesville communities.

Co-founder and third-year College student Alan Wei used his computer science expertise to get the app up and running, Harris said.

“[Alan] coded the whole thing front-to-back,” Harris said. “Having an in-house coder has actually been great for the development process.”

Kyle Matthews, another co-founder and second-year College student, said the app gives off a “feel good vibe.”

“We’re called the ‘feel good feed,’ so we're really just promoting [and] posting anything related to Grounds or your personal life that gives off that feel-good vibe,” Matthews said.

The app works via teams of participants, whether they be a club, friend group or Greek organization. Each week, teams compete to be the top donor and promoter of the week’s sponsored non-profit in Charlottesville.

“Next week we have Ragged Mountain Running Shop sponsoring U.Va. Hospital’s diaper drive,” Harris said. “If you like a picture that you think is funny or inspires you to donate, you just press donate, enter your card info, [and] we use Stripe which is a cybersecure payment processor.”

The team raising the most awareness and money for the charity wins prizes from the week’s sponsor, all of which are local Charlottesville businesses.

“We had Caribé Juice and [the non-profit] City Schoolyard Gardens paired up and the top team, which was named Team Deeg, won 50 juices [from Caribé],” Matthews said.

The development team plans to take Totem to new organizations and schools in the future, Harris said.

“If we’re successful this semester, we’d like to branch out to multiple college towns,” Harris said. “So instead of just teams at U.Va. competing against each other, it could be U.Va. versus Virginia Tech, and everyone likes to beat Tech.”

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