CMS hopes one new app and 500+ willing givers can help homeless students and families

The needs of homeless students can be daunting, especially in a district like Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that has more than 3,000 of them.

But the chance to meet small, specific needs of individual students — a new pair of sneakers, a warm coat, perhaps a mattress — with just a few clicks is enticing hundreds to step up for CMS students who lack stable housing.

CMS has signed an agreement to work with Purposity, a donation app that lets people provide help to individuals whose needs have been verified. The district needed 500 people to download the free app and choose Charlotte as their community so school social workers could start sharing their lists.

Monday evening, after staff had been talking up the app among colleagues, 86 had done so. Michele King, a CMS school social work specialist, said she had little doubt that hundreds would respond to a program that combines the impulse-giving opportunity of crowd-funding with the assurance that comes from knowing the money goes toward a genuine need.

Less than 24 hours later, after an Observer online story and a WCNC television report, CMS crossed the 500 mark.

Purposity screen shot.PNG
With 500 signed up for Charlotte updates from the Purposity app, CMS will be able to start filling school social workers’ requests for items to help students in need.

“503!! We did it!!” King emailed just before 4:30 p.m. “The Charlotte community demonstrated over the last 24 hours what a dedicated, caring and committed city we are to our neighbors.”

Purposity was created by Atlanta motivational speaker and “social entrepreneur” Blake Canterbury. The name combines “purpose” and “generosity.” The service is already active in several other communities and lists Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia Power and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta among its partners.

“We have the resources in every community to meet the needs of that community,” Canterbury said in a statement emailed to the Observer. “We just have to find a way to connect people to needs, and I believe Purposity will build that bridge.”

All the needs posted have been vetted by nonprofit partners, cost no more than $250 and are targeted to donors’ chosen communities. The 500-member minimum for new communities is designed to ensure that posted needs have a strong chance of being met quickly, King said. Once someone agrees to foot the bill, that need is removed and the item is shipped to the sponsoring organization — in this case, a CMS social worker — for delivery to the recipient.

Katie Lindsay and Courtney Hawkins, two CMS social workers who work with students who are homeless or at risk, heard about the app at a conference about a year ago, according to King and a CMS news release. King said CMS already has four schools lined up to post needs, and schools will be added as the donor base grows. King declined to name the pilot schools, saying she doesn’t want them to be flooded with people seeking help.

CMS already works with numerous groups that donate clothes, school supplies, backpacks and computers for students in need. King says this will supplement those efforts, making it easier to provide help for students whose families might face a crisis that creates urgent needs, such as an eviction or house fire.

Purposity’s approach is reminiscent of, a clearinghouse for classroom teachers to get donations for projects that help their students. Since its founding in 2000 it has fulfilled more than 600,000 projects, including many in the Charlotte region.

Crowd-funding sites, such as GoFundMe, let anyone seeking help pitch directly to would-be donors. But the money goes directly to the recipient without oversight, and reports of occasional scams make some givers wary. By acting as an intermediary, and Purposity ensure that requests are coming from legitimate sources and that the needed supplies, not cash, are delivered.

To sign up for the CMS project, go to or download the app from Google Play or Apple’s app store. Select Charlotte as your community. Needs from CMS should start appearing soon.

Ann Doss Helms has covered education for the Observer since 2002, long enough to watch a generation of kids go from preK to college. She is a repeat winner of the North Carolina Press Association’s education reporting award.