- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - A mayor, an entrepreneur and a community college student walk into a room.

This is not a setup to a joke, but the scene of an annual gathering of people who share an interest in “coding” to solve real-world problems such as disease and economic decline. March 5 saw these people come together in DeKalb as part of CodeAcross, an annual “hackathon” promoted by the organization Code for America in which open-source information is used to create solutions to local issues.

Among the projects started at the event earlier this month at Northern Illinois University’s Founders Memorial Library were a website that can be used to consolidate useful information during a natural disaster, such as when and where relief volunteers are needed and a resource people can use to find local produce, among other products. Final versions of these resources might be months away, because they are virtually impossible to finish in a weekend, said Christopher Whitaker, founder of CivicWhitaker and Code for America consultant.

“The way I judge . a successful hackathon is six months later, did we have a project that actually became a real thing? Or are the people who were involved in the hackathon still involved and working on even bigger projects?” Whitaker said. “Even if people don’t produce something that knocks it out of the park, the fact people are learning is what we care about as well.”

Andrew Kozinski, a 16-year-old Kishwaukee College student, helped develop Illinois Emergency, a website that, when fully functional, will allow officials to coordinate volunteer relief efforts by letting community members know when and where they can volunteer in the event of a natural disaster.

Tracy Rogers-Tryba, research associate at the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement, said improvements in volunteer relief organization could be made in light of last year’s tornado that tore through Rochelle and Fairdale and left two women dead.

“The disorganization had to do with there was a call put out for different resources, (and) you’d show up, (and) ‘We don’t need them, we have too many,’ ” Rogers-Tryba said. “It’s situations like that, so if there is a main point of communication . that kind of organization can really help smooth that relief effort both on picking up and cleaning up afterward.”

Patty Ruback, 41, of DeKalb led a brainstorming session on the best way to link producers of locally grown food to consumers, two groups who she said wouldn’t have interacted otherwise. She and other participants came up with the idea for a website that would serve as a resource for consumers looking for locally grown and made products, with food and drinks being the chief focus.

“I truly believe that we can find everything we eat in this area if we really wanted to,” Ruback said. “As consumers, we need to support those local producers, and together I think that will help build the local economy.”

DeKalb Mayor John Rey, who participated in the event, said he was extremely pleased with the local initiatives.

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Source: The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle, https://bit.ly/21neR4t

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Information from: The Daily Chronicle, https://www.daily-chronicle.com

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