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Team Gen-VR: Story-telling with Virtual Reality

This is part of the “United Way Most’s Innovative Minds” List, celebrating individuals who embrace innovative methods to reshape the future of social impact. Learn more here

Housed in United Way of Central Indiana in Indianapolis is a close-knit team braving the world of virtual reality.


Tanner Alexander, Corporate Engagement Associate,

Angela Carlisle, Pledge Processing & Donor Choice Specialist,

Melissa Jackson, Executive Assistant, President’s Office,

Molly Miller, Corporate Volunteerism Associate and

Margie Worrell, Community Engagement Senior Manager.

This team led the way in their office to pioneer virtual reality to tell the story of “ALICE,” short-hand for a demographic representing a growing number of households who earn more than a poverty-level income, but not enough to afford the basic cost of living. With the rapid spread of COVID-19, ALICE families are particularly vulnerable to the illness and economic disruption.

The team had an executive sponsor, a support for many successful innovations. This sponsor was United Way’s Guiding Coalition, an initiative developed by the United Way CEO to bring diverse voices together to collaborate on special projects, The Guiding Coalition charged the newly-formed team with capturing the experience of this population.

With no experience in virtual reality, it was a daunting task. To turn their vision into reality, the team leaned on experts, consultants and people with experience with virtual reality. After months of research and countless (!) meetings, “A Walk with ALICE” was created. It’s a 360-degree immersive experience depicting the stark reality of a family living in “ALICE.” The final product is a mix of education and empathy centering on Maria, a mom juggling two jobs who’s forced to make difficult choices for her family’s well-being.

When asked about the root of their success, the team pointed to fellow team members’ dedication and cohesiveness. Their super power? The team’s diversity of skills and experiences.

  • As Corporate Volunteerism Associate, Molly’s organizational and analytical skills kept the team on schedule and was integral in scouting filming locations.
  • Angela, from Finance, brought expertise from a financial standpoint but also unleashed her hidden writing skills for the script.
  • Melissa, executive assistant to the president, kept the team on track with executive priorities and brought a predictive lens.
  • Coming from an immersive learning and teaching background, Margie brought great perspective on what a successful product could look like and played a huge part in developing the facilitation process.
  • And lastly, Tanner, the team’s biggest enthusiast, managed the agenda and facilitation guides.

Their VR work hasn’t ended, though. They’re now working on a second video, providing a deeper view into how participants become “ALICE.”

For the team, Innovation is all about perspective, looking through the lens of someone else and removing bias. It’s about choosing a different lane and finding an alternative way to do something that may seem daunting or undoable. If you’re thinking about incorporating virtual reality or new technologies in your work, their advice: “Just go for it! People will want you to succeed. And don’t forget to surround yourself with a high-quality team.”


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