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How a small team connects hundreds of people with long-lost loved ones

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2 min read

How a small team connects hundreds of people with long-lost loved ones

Volunteers from around the world are reuniting families with a little help from automation

By Justin Pot · March 23, 2021
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Imagine not seeing a loved one for 15 years, or being separated from your entire family for that long. Think about the background radiation of it—how it would hang over everything you do. 

Then imagine reconnecting. The joy of that. 

Miracle Messages is a nonprofit that gave people exactly this, 400 times and counting. A small team, alongside a network of volunteers, do the detective work that makes these reconnections possible. 

Here's how it works: a person isolated by homelessness leaves a short message for a loved one they're not in touch with. A team of digital detectives gets to work at tracking down those loved ones, so people can reconnect. 

Founder Kevin F. Adler started Miracle Messages in honor of his Uncle Mark:

"He was the most family-oriented member of my extended family," Adler writes. "He was the guest of honor at Thanksgiving and Christmas. He remembered every birthday: the year before he died at the age of 50, he gave me an eagle bandana for my birthday. Mark also suffered from schizophrenia, and lived on-and-off the streets for 30 years." 

Adler wanted to bring together people who, for all sorts of reasons, are separated from loved ones. The internet, at its best, brings people together. Miracle Messages is an incredible example of that.

"I started Miracle Messages to make an immediate and tangible impact in the lives of our neighbors living on-and-off the streets, to build empathy through person-to-person interaction and storytelling, and to use technology for social good," wrote Adler. 

It's an admirable mission—one that Zapier is proud to be a small part of. 

Our stories explore how Zapier's users solve common problems. From marketers to CEOs, educators to real estate agents, millions use Zapier to automate their most tedious tasks. If you haven't yet, try Zapier for free to see what we're all about.

How Miracle Messages uses automation to bring families together

Jessica Donig, executive director and co-founder at Miracle Messages, told us that discovering Zapier made a big difference. 

"We were trying to achieve outsized impact as a small team, all while managing a large team of remote volunteers," said Donig. "Before we found Zapier, it was incredibly difficult to share information in an efficient way." 

Not anymore. Zapier automations power several of the workflows that connect apps for Miracle Messages and ultimately help reconnect families. One Zap—our word for an automated workflow—powers the entire operation, according to Donig. 

Cases are referred to us using an Airtable form. Then Zapier automatically generates a case card that appears on the volunteer Trello board. Volunteers update cases using an Airtable form, which updates the Trello card and sends out submission confirmation emails to the volunteer and to the Miracle Messages team. This Zapier integration has allowed a team of remote volunteers from across the country to effectively organize, manage, and share information. We have reconnected more than 400 people experiencing homelessness with their loved ones as a result. 

Here's a basic template for that Zap, which you can customize however you want.

Another Zap makes sure every voicemail left is seen by volunteers. 

"Our Dialpad to Google Sheets integration powers our hotline," said Donig. "When calls come in on the hotline, we document them on a shared Google Sheet, so that a volunteer can see the new call and return it." 

Donig told us that these, and many other automations, save her at least ten hours a week, and save each volunteer at least an hour every week. 

Technology isn't what makes this mission possible—people are—but saving time helps with any mission. 

"At Miracle Messages, we try to have technology do what technology does best, so that the people can do what people do best," Donig told us. "We use the time we save by using Zapier to support and train our volunteers, to facilitate reconnections between our unhoused Friends and their loved ones, and to helping our unhoused Friends find resources and support."

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Justin Pot picture

Justin Pot

Justin Pot is a staff writer at Zapier based in Hillsboro, Oregon. He loves technology, people, and nature, not necessarily in that order. You can follow Justin on Twitter: @jhpot. You don't have to. But you can.

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