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The Miracle Messages Case Guide Turn your smartphone into a "kind-phone."

What would it look like if we used the "smart" tools at our disposal to be kind?

At Miracle Messages, that's what we do. And we want to invite you to do it with us.

The premise of our work is simple--we help people experiencing homelessness reconnect with their loved ones, using our smart devices and the resources that they allow us to access. Of course, the reality of what we do has layers of complexity far beyond doing a search or making a call. That's why we put together this guide.

Before we start: a few notes

Before you start #1: understand the organization and the expectations.

If you haven't already reviewed the introductory training, check that out first. You can navigate to that page using the button below.

Before we start #2: understand the commitment and the case assignment process

Miracle Messages cases are assigned each week at the Cold Case Committee meeting, which is held every Wednesday night at 6pm PST. Anyone who wants to join the committee meeting, either as a participant or as a listener, is welcome.

New volunteers must attend a Cold Case Committee to be assigned a case, unless they are part of a specially designated project or student group. All of the resources needed to participate in a Cold Case Committee, including the dial-in information for the call, are accessible via the button above.

If you choose to take on a case at the Cold Case Committee meeting, you are expected to put in a good faith effort to deliver the message that week. You are also expected to document your work using the case update tool before the next week's meeting. Most volunteers tell us that the actual work required to work on cases doesn't take that long, but that it can take awhile for the loved one to respond (and most cases require a few different attempts). With that in mind, we recommend starting work on your case within 2 days of the cold case committee meeting.

Some cases take longer than one week, so don't stress if you don't have anything to report when the meeting time rolls around! At the meeting, you'll always be asked if you'd like to keep the case open to wait for a response or try different avenues.

Of course, we know that things come up, and that volunteers get busy. If something comes up for you that makes you unable to complete the work on your case, please just let us know so that we can account for it.

Before we start #3: understand case tracking tools

The Cold Case Committee uses Trello software to track cases. You can see what the Trello Board looks like below.

The Cold Case Committee Trello Board shows all of the cases in progress. On the left is a list of unassigned cases--these cases are assigned to various volunteers during the meeting, and moved to that volunteer's Trello list.

Clicking on an item in a list allows you to see all of the information that was received about the client when the case was entered. You can use this information to begin your search for the loved one.

The case update tool should be used to input information about your progress on your case. You can use this tool as many times as you want to document what you've done on a case. The information you enter into the update tool will be reflected on Trello as "comments" which you will see on the case card.

The link to access the case update tool is

https://mmintake.typeform.com/to/dYbSNm

Updates made using the case update tool will appear as comments on the Trello card for the case.

Ok, looks like you're ready to get started!

Section 1: General notes for solving cases

Once you've been assigned a case, here's what you should do:

Step 1: Get as much context as you can.

Though not impossible, it’s much harder to successfully solve a case without some context clues. Context allows you to get to know the client, understand who they are looking for, and tailor the message to the loved one.

How to get context on a Miracle Messages case:

  1. If there is a video message, watch it.
  2. If there is a phone number for how to reach the client, call it.*
  3. If there is a number or email address listed for the messenger who recorded the case, contact that person.
  4. If there are case notes, read them.

*Making a context call to a client or a fellow volunteer? Here’s what you can say:

Hi, my name is [name] and I’m the volunteer working on the Miracle Messages case for [client]. I wanted to verify the information that I have on the case before I begin reaching out. Would you mind just reviewing the information with me for a few minutes?

Step 2: Use our search tools to search for the loved one(s) online, and reach out through the appropriate channels.

Tips on searching, using resources, and reaching out to loved ones are below.

Step 3: If you reach a loved one and they want to connect, work with Miracle Messages to facilitate a reconnection.

Once you’ve connected with a loved one and established that they are interested in reconnecting, let us know! You can email hello@miraclemessages.org to do this. We will help you evaluate how to best facilitate the reconnection, and try to connect the supports and resources that we have to the client.

Step 4: When you’re done working on the case, update the case using the case update tool.

Simple enough, right?

Now, let's run through some of our most-used avenues for finding and reaching out to loved ones.

Go-to #1: Whitepages Premium

WhitePages is the go-to tool for starting a search. We use whitepages to find phone numbers to call loved ones; we also use it as a cross-referencing tool to narrow a search. Here's how to use it:

  • Before using Whitepages, always make sure to review the case context to optimize your search.
  • To access WhitePages Premium, go to https://premium.whitepages.com and log in using the credentials listed below:

Username: detective2@miraclemessages.org

Password: LocateLoved1s!

Whitepages Search:

1. Do a preliminary search using the name and last known location(s).

  • You can use the filters on the left-hand panel to narrow your search, using the information provided by the client.
  • White Pages searches are not always 100% accurate. Keep the search broad enough that you won't cut out too many results!

2. Narrow your search by doing the following:

  • Check the age against the age given by the client. Ages may not be entirely accurate, so allow for a range in your search.
  • Check the middle name or initial against the information given by the client.
  • Look at the “related to” section, and compare it to the information given by the client. Look for the client’s name, and/or names of other known relatives.
  • Check the “may go by” section. This is why we ask about maiden and former names!

In the best case scenario a white pages search may give a result that is clearly the right person. If that happens, SAVE THE PAGE URL! You’ll want to be able to reference it later.

Whitepages Outreach:

In most cases, a whitepages search will give you a few phone numbers to try, a physical address, and a list of other related people to the loved one. Here's what to do with that information:

1. Check out the phone numbers you find. If you find a phone number, click on the number listed for the search result to find out who it’s registered to. Phones that appear to be registered to the loved one (or another relative) are likely to be correct.

2. Call, text, and leave voicemails. Remember that we are reaching out to people who aren’t expecting to hear from us, on behalf of someone who has no other recourse besides us. If a call goes to voicemail, leave a voicemail AND send a text. Our goal is to make it as likely as possible that our message will be received.

Here is an outline of what you can say when you call:

Hi, my name is [name], and I’m calling on behalf [client name]. I work with a program called Miracle Messages, that helps people reconnect with loved ones. [client] asked us to help him reconnect with [loved one’s] name, so I’m trying to reach [loved one]. Is this the right number?
If yes: ok, great! I’m glad I reached you. [client] was really hoping that I would be able to get in touch with you!

(From here, the conversation will flow according to case specifics. Your GOAL in the conversation is to establish the following:

  • Do you have the right person?
  • Does the loved one want to reconnect?
  • If yes, how can WE (you OR Miracle Messages, or both of us working together) facilitate a first conversation between the client and the loved one?
  • If no, is there another avenue that would make sense or a message that the loved one would like to send?

The same idea applies when using text or leaving a voicemail.

Here is a script for sending a text:

Hi! My name is __________, and I'm a volunteer with Miracle Messages (miraclemessages.org), a nonprofit that helps people reconnect with loved ones

I just met with ___[client’s full name]___, who recorded a message to his ___[mom, brother, etc]___, ___[loved one’s full name]___.Would this be you?

Please let me know either way so I can ask our volunteers to continue the search if need be. You can reach me at _[phone number, email address, etc]_. Thank you!

Here is a script for leaving a voicemail:

Hi, my name is ___________, and I'm calling on behalf of ___(client)___. I work with an organization called Miracle Messages, a nonprofit that helps people reconnect with loved ones. __________ asked us to help him/her reconnect with his ___[mom, brother, etc]___, ___[loved one’s full name]___. Would this be you?
Please let me know either way so I can ask our volunteers to continue the search if need be. You can reach me at _[phone number, email address, etc]_. Thank you!

Some volunteers prefer not to reveal their phone number when contacting loved ones. If you’d rather not reveal your phone number when making calls, you can press *67 before you dial to mask your phone number.

Tips and tricks:

  • Try different numbers listed for the same person. If you don’t get confirmation that someone has received the message, keep trying different numbers.
  • If you can’t reach the loved one, you should PROBABLY (but not definitely) reach out to other people listed in WhitePages. It’s worth checking the notes for this--sometimes a client will specify that they only want to reach a specific person. More often, however, it’s appropriate to try other listed names. In particular, elderly people may be difficult to reach, but you can text another relative who is younger and have them relay a message.
  • Consider sending a letter via snail mail. Yup, we’ve actually had success doing this! Here’s a script for writing a letter. You can use Miracle Messages’ office for the return address if you’d like.

Here's a script for writing a letter:

Hello,

My name is ______ and I work for a non-profit organization called Miracle Messages that helps individuals reconnect with their loved ones. I have a message from ______ who is looking for his brother ________. I am sending this letter in hopes that this is still his current address. If you are the intended recipient please give me a call at ______. If this address is incorrect please feel free to give me a call to let me know as well.

If you'd like to reach our organization by phone, please call the Miracle Messages hotline at 1-800-MISS YOU.

Best wishes,

__________

Here's the return address you can use:

Miracle Messages, C/O Code Advisors

101 2nd St. Unit #2225

San Francisco, CA 94105

Whatever method you use to reach out, don't forget to update the case using the case update form.

Go-to #2: Facebook

Miracle Messages uses facebook and facebook messenger extensively to identify clients, reach out, and post strategically on pages and in groups.

If you have a facebook account, you are encouraged to use your own account to research and send messages. Some of our volunteers who aren’t comfortable revealing personal information create alternate facebook accounts; you can also request access to an account maintained by Miracle Messages.

As with any Miracle Messages search, make sure to review the case context to optimize your search.

Facebook Search:

When you do a facebook search for the loved one, use clues like middle names, maiden names, locations, physical descriptions, and names of other family members and friends to narrow your search and eliminate extraneous results.

Search in groups and pages that might include the loved one, including school alumni pages,

Search for associated profiles, such as potential spouses, parents, or friends that may be in communication with the loved one.

Facebook Outreach:

When you think you've found someone on facebook, try reaching out.

1. Send a private message to the loved one. Message the person whom you believe to be the loved one, even if you aren't 100% sure it's the right person.

Here’s a script you can use for contacting a loved one via fb messenger:

Hi! My name is __________, and I'm a volunteer with Miracle Messages (miraclemessages.org), a nonprofit that helps people reconnect with loved ones

I just met with ___[client’s full name]___, who recorded a message to his ___[mom, brother, etc]___, ___[loved one’s full name]___.

Would this be you?

Please let me know either way so I can ask our volunteers to continue the search if need be. You can reach me at _[phone number, email address, etc]_. Thank you!

2. Note whether the person appears to be active on facebook. If they don’t have recent activity, they may not go on facebook frequently, and may not see your message.

3. Consider sending the person a friend request (you can always remove it later!). Not everyone checks messages that come from non-friends.

Example of a facebook message that led to a reunion

If you don't receive a response to a private message, try to get a message to another related person on facebook.

4. Message someone who you think might have contact with the loved one. They might be able to relay your message to your target!

Here’s a script you can use for contacting a friend via messenger.

Hi! My name is __________, and I'm a volunteer with Miracle Messages (miraclemessages.org), a nonprofit that helps people reconnect with loved ones

I’m trying to get in touch with _______, on behalf of ________. It looks like you may be connected with ________; would you be willing to pass this message along?

Thank you!

5. As with other facebook messages, note whether the person appears to be active on facebook. If they don’t have recent activity, they may not go on facebook frequently, and may not see your message.

6. As with other facebook messages, consider sending the person a friend request (you can always remove it later!). Not everyone checks messages that come from non-friends.

If private messaging doesn't work, you may want to try posting to a group or page.

If you found a group or page that you believe may be associated with the loved one, you can post something like “Is anyone in contact with [name]? If so, please send me a DM! Thank you :)” No need to reveal anything publicly about why you are trying to get in contact--you can do this through a private message.

If you receive a response, don't forget to document it using the case update tool.

Other Social Media Tools

Although Whitepages and Facebook are our most used platforms, they aren’t the only ones we use! Creative volunteers have sent messages via Linkedin, Instagram, twitter, and others. If you think you can reach someone via any of these platforms, go for it!

Anytime that you are writing a note that will be delivered privately, you can use the scripts for sending a text or facebook message. If you message will be displayed publicly, please use discretion. The last thing that we want to do is pressure or shame loved ones on the internet!

Advanced Search: Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com is a great way to cross-check information, find additional family members, and narrow a search using original documents. Since Ancestry does not provide contact information, information that you find on Ancestry will need to be plugged in to other platforms.

You can use our Ancestry World Explorer account using the credentials below:

Ancestry.com “World Explorer” Account:

Email: hello@miraclemessages.org

Password: LocateLoved1s!

Oftentimes, the best way to use ancestry is through trial-and-error; you can do exploratory searches for the loved one and other associated names. If you find a great use for Ancestry, please let us know so that we can share it!

Additional databases

As Miracle Messages has grown, volunteers have helped us identify other databases that may be of use when searching for loved ones. We endorse using any database that works!

Below, you'll find a list of additional databases suggested by volunteers. If you find yourself using a resource that isn't on our list, please share it with us. You can email hello@miraclemessages.org, or share it with the group at a Cold Case Committee meeting.

FastPeopleSearch

www.fastpeoplesearch.com/

Recommended by: Mark Askins

What it is: a database (similar to Whitepages premium).

When to use it: if none of the numbers on Whitepages work.

Been Verified

www.beenverified.com

Recommended by Dave Hairfield

What it is: a database (similar to Whitepages premium).

When to use it: if none of the numbers on Whitepages work.

Getting Help on your case

Don't forget that you have a community behind you.

If you get stuck on a case, here are some ways to get help:

1. Send a message to your case mentor, or any Miracle Messages mentor.

Seriously, our mentors are the best. They have tons of in-depth knowledge and experience, and can help you work through individual cases.

Here are the people to contact:

  • Larry Liparrelli: email at lipparelli@hotmail.com
  • Mark Askins: email at mark@miraclemessages.org
  • Jena Hosking: email at jena@miraclemessages.org
  • Paul Swanson: email at swansonp32@gmail.com

2. Ask Jess.

For process related questions, you can always ask Jess! Just shoot her an email at jess@miraclemessages.org

3. Post in the community.

In addition to our Cold Case Committee members, we have over 1,000 people in our facebook volunteer community. If you're stuck, it's worth posting in there to see who is willing to help. Here's the link to the facebook group.

Thank you for working with Miracle Messages!

Everyone is someone's somebody.

Thanks for being someone special to us.

Credits:

Created with images by SplitShire - "smartphone movie taking pictures" • Wokandapix - "ready prepared preparation" • 1681551 - "drawing pad note pad white background" • geralt - "facebook internet network" • geralt - "mobile phone smartphone keyboard" • Jan Antonin Kolar - "untitled image" • Jametlene Reskp - "buoy launched at the sea" • sydney Rae - "untitled image"

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