Brothers' online start-up aims to 'pray it forward'
Brothers Jamie, left, and Adam Coughlin pose for a portrait at the abi Innovation Hub in Downtown Manchester on Wednesday. The brothers, from Bedford, launched the website PlusGrace.com. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
The New Hampshire Food Bank, one of the first campaigns on the site, has already collected more than $1,000 toward stocking a mobile food pantry, thanks in large part to a Jan. 31 launch for PlusGrace.com at Dyn Inc. on Dow Street in the Manchester Millyard. The event was attended by Tom Blonski, president of New Hampshire Catholic Charities, which sponsors the Food Bank.
The initiative to raise $5,000 to stock a mobile pantry is exactly the kind of effort PlusGrace.com was designed to support, according Jamie Coughlin, who said he and his brother have a simple goal: "To build the world's largest online prayer network."
Created on a premise similar to change.org, which labels itself as "the world's petition platform," the Coughlin brothers hope to make PlusGrace a leader in what Jamie calls "social for the soul."
The Bedford natives are well-suited to the task. They combine a deep commitment to their Catholic faith with experience in the Internet economy and professional connections to local start-ups.
Jamie is chief executive officer and entrepreneur in residence at the abi Innovation Hub. Formerly known as the Amoskeag Business Incubator, now located on Elm Street in Manchester, the nonprofit organization provides space and helps new businesses get off the ground. Adam is a former community journalist and now media relations manager at Dyn.
Given Dyn's active support for tech start-ups, and the abi role in promoting innovation, both brothers are present at virtually every event in the state dedicated to the start-up economy. It's no surprise to anyone who knows them that they now have a Web-based business of their own.
Faith in also important in their lives. Both grew up attending St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Bedford, and now attend with families of their own. They see the faith-based groups around them expressing a sense of urgency about reaching young people, many of whom are looking for ways to ?express their spirituality and help the causes they believe ?in.
"If we don't change the way we reach out to people, we will lose an entire generation of Americans growing up online," Adam said.
That's where PlusGrace.com comes in, offering an opportunity to create, pray for and fund faith-based campaigns ranging from a new church roof, to missionary work, to support for a Russian orphanage. The site makes ample use of photography, story-telling and social media tools to promote causes that now include prayers for military families, a fundraiser to "Empower Women in Jakarta" and the New Hampshire Food Bank. When someone donates through the site, plusgrace.com takes a transaction fee ranging from 2 to 5 percent.
Churches can use the site to create online tithing programs, to replace or supplement the traditional practice of mailing contribution envelopes to the congregation.
"This is a different approach. It's innovative, and we're looking to embrace new technologies that help us reach a new generation of donors and volunteers for Catholic Charities," Blonkski said. "It's an intriguing idea to combine prayer and fundraising campaigns in a way that we believe is a force for good in our world."
The idea is based on the simple premise that some people can afford to give money; some can give their time; others can only offer prayers for a cause they hold dear.
"People always have something to give," Adam said. "Even if they can't give money, they can pray, and we believe that prayer has value."
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