Pillar Awards: Innovation nominee – Ryan Kelly

This is the third in a series spotlighting nominees for the Pillar awards.

Ryan Kelly, the developer behind a volunteer-matching app, has a sense of humour about his own geekiness.

The 21-year-old nominee for a Pillar Community Innovation Award remembers as a St. Thomas Aquinas secondary school students, “I was really big into computer science. I know — shocker, right?”

And one of his current fixations, shades of Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, is physics.

The young man started out creating what he calls “really bad video games.” Released online, one of them earned him a whopping $20 profit.

But he’s in an entirely different game now, working with his 10-member team to help address a critical need during the coronavirus pandemic using technology.

The Atrium Project has nothing to do with brick-and-mortar buildings. “My construction skills are zero,” Kelly concedes. “What we wanted to do was create a central meeting place.”

That meeting place happens to be online.

The nominating committee worded Kelly’s team’s achievement this way: “Through the use of cutting-edge machine learning technology, Atrium has demonstrated innovation in their capability to meet a critical community need with a user-friendly platform and an efficient end-to-end process that effectively manages volunteers and recipient deliveries.”

In simpler terms, the project matches volunteers with Londoners who need assistance during the pandemic.

When the coronavirus arrived in the Forest City in March, forcing residents to stay in their homes, Kelly realized, “Now would be a perfect time to open a delivery company.”

“My mom was also supporting people in the community,” he said, and then the challenge became how to support Londoners who need to pick up groceries, but can’t venture outside often because they are in a high-risk group.

“It went from there,” Kelly said.

The web and telephone service allows people who are in need to request help from volunteers, who also sign up virtually.

The last time Kelly checked, there were about 240 volunteers registered with the Atrium Project helping about 50 recipients.

“I’m very happy with the way that it scaled,” Kelly noted.

Has anything about the experience surprised him? “I’m surprised that the demand exists in London the way that it does. I’m surprised at the number of volunteers that we are able to support.”

And if he is lucky enough to walk away with the award, how will that make him feel?

“It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe,” he said, picking his words carefully. “It’s not about the award itself; it’s knowing that we’ve helped people.”

The Pillar Community Innovation Awards are an annual London event saluting organizations, people and agencies that make the Forest City a better place. Twelve finalists in four categories — innovation, leadership, impact and collaboration — are nominated for the annual prizes, presented by Pillar Nonprofit Network, an umbrella group supporting hundreds of non-profit organizations.

Kelly and his crew are nominated in the innovation category.

This year, the ceremony will take place online because of pandemic restrictions on public gatherings.

Innovation: The other finalists


: This mental-health education non-profit was cited by the nomination committee for creating an online platform that “helps teachers build their understanding of mental health and positive education strategies.” The committee lauded Beecuz for helping youth to “dare to chase their dreams.”

The Raw Carrot Soup Enterprise:

A social franchise that works with churches and non-profits, it helps to “create meaningful employment for individuals living with physical, mental and developmental disabilities” by creating hand-crafted, gourmet soup. It has four locations and 27 employees across the province.



Pillar Community Innovation Awards


: Nov. 19, 6 to 8:30 p.m.





$45 to $400 (plus processing fee)



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