Tag Archives: #youthleadership

Arnav Mishra with cards for seniors (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

San Jose Teen, Arnav Mishra’s Efforts Bring Smiles to Senior Citizens

In a time of collective trauma, Arnav Mishra provides a source of healing through his work for senior citizens in the Bay Area. Mishra’s organizing efforts, creating colorful cards and drawings for seniors, is deemed a “work of heart”.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 16-year-old Arnav and his younger sister have been busy writing letters and sending their colorful creations to assisted living facilities and hospice centers across California and the country.

After receiving an overwhelming response from grateful seniors, many of whom have been unable to see their own grandchildren in more than a year, Arnav formed the organization Pumpkin Letters and recruited groups of elementary and middle school students to help in his effort. Since April 2020, they have brightened up the days of more than 3,000 seniors with cute cards, letters, and words of encouragement.

Pumpkin Letters online platform (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)
Pumpkin Letters online platform (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

“I knew that my grandparents were really missing our visits during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place, so my little sister and I started writing letters and cards and dropping off to them regularly,” said Arnav. “I realized that just like my grandparents, there were so many other grandparents and seniors who couldn’t see their grandkids and were lonely.”

Arnav juggles a full schedule as a guitarist in his school’s rock band, an intern for a Bay Area political campaign, and a student with challenging Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Yet, he remains inspired to continue writing letters to seniors by the responses he receives. He is working to reach even more seniors but needs other students to help in order to expand the effort.

“The demand for these cards and letters from senior homes is overwhelming and he needs more kids involved in this project to help cover even more care homes,” said Arnav’s mother, Ruchika Mishra. “We know there are a lot of kind, compassionate, and creative kids who would love to cheer up lonely seniors.”

Since his project kicked off more than a year ago, 260+ children have been able to send cheer to more than 900 seniors. Many seniors share their cards with others, spreading the love even further.

Students ages 8-17,  teachers registering their classes, and group home caregivers, can sign up to volunteer or request letters by visiting the Pumpkin Letters website. Interested persons will receive information on how their drawings and letters can help seniors fight loneliness and instructions on where to send their completed work.

Pumpkin Letters Volunteers on a Zoom Call (Image provided by Arnav Mishra)

Since many schoolchildren are also struggling with limited social interactions with their friends or aren’t attending in-person school due to the health crisis, Pumpkin Letters hosts monthly Zoom meetups where children and teens gather to work together on their art projects, laugh, share ideas, and become inspired by the work of others. These events are often based on themes that are related to the seasons and upcoming holidays. Learn more or sign up for an upcoming meetup at www.PumpkinLetters.com.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Student Run Ecosystem Answers All College Related Questions

What AP courses should I take? APUSH? AP Calculus AB or BC?

What should I do during the summer? A summer program, research, or an internship? 

What is EECS at Berkeley really like?

What are the different career choices in the Biotech field?

What is the college culture like at Columbia?

This endless barrage of questions start running through the minds of every high school student on the first day of 9th grade. We’ve seen similar questions plague our peers, who are also stressed about the ins and outs of college.

We knew that there had to be something we could do to find and share the right answers to these endless questions. In order to solve this pressing need for college mentorship and resources, we founded Leap2College. 

Leap2College is a student-run free platform to help high school students navigate the challenging process of college admissions. We hope to build a community of mentors, provide a comprehensive library of resources, and build an ecosystem of support and lifelong friendships.

We strongly believe that guidance from the right mentor can be vital in choosing the optimal path. We have an amazing group of enthusiastic college students and graduates who have studied at the nation’s top-ranked universities – Stanford, Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, UPenn, CMU, and Columbia to name a few. They are excited to give back to their community and provide high school students with invaluable advice that they wish they had received during their earlier education.  Their advice has led to real change in the lives of the students they’ve helped. Here’s some mentee feedback that highlights how useful mentorship has been for them:

“My mentor was extremely knowledgeable and easy to speak with. He answered all our questions in great detail and the session was very helpful. He guided us in the right direction and gave us very useful feedback about major selections, and other questions that we had.”

“My mentor gave me lots of great advice about college and she was willing to take the time to answer all of my questions, regardless of whether they seemed frivolous or not… She’s perfect!”

“My mentor was able to help me with so much from essays to my resume… she was amazing”

“With my mentor’s help, I was able to decide which clubs I wanted to do. The entire session was pretty good overall!”

In addition to mentorship, our platform provides a comprehensive list of key resources that would benefit any high school student, including information about preparing for SAT/ACT and AP Courses. We have also consolidated a list of scholarships, research opportunities, summer programs, and much more.

Last but not least, we run an interview series where college students and mentors share personal stories of their journey in high school.

Leap2College is accelerating off the ground and we can’t wait to share the untapped knowledge with all of you. If you are an inquisitive high school student with any questions about the college process, please sign up as a mentee at leap2college.org

If you are a college student or graduate and would like to help the community, please sign up to be a mentor at https://www.leap2college.org/mentors.

To keep up with us and to stay updated, follow us @leap2college on all social media platforms.


Utsav Kataria is a sophomore at Lynbrook High School with a strong passion for CS, math, public forum debate, and volunteering. He co-founded Leap2College to empower, motivate, and support high schoolers in their journey to college.

Sejal Rathi is a junior at Lynbrook High School. She is extremely passionate about math, computer science, and enjoys teaching and participating in various competitions. She co-founded Leap2College to help high schoolers navigate their path to college.

Teens Ask Us to Save Our Saviours

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, a Bellarmine College Prep junior, Rishabh Saxena, like everyone else, became increasingly concerned. He wanted to do his part and started the Save your Saviors campaign in early March to equip healthcare workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help them win this fight.

Around the same time, Shivina Chugh, a junior at MSJHS in Fremont, was becoming increasingly worried as well. Rishabh and Shivina joined forces to help raise awareness for this cause as both their moms have been at the front line fighting this war and wanted to do their part to save people’s lives at the front line. After researching how the risks faced by frontline workers could be mitigated, they found that, in addition to other PPE, reusable and washable bio-suits helped keep the infection rate low among the healthcare workers in South Korea. Their research indicated that these bio-suits were already used in a few emergency rooms in hospitals across the United States but were not readily available.

They ran the idea of sourcing the bio-suits by their moms, a few Intensive Care Unit directors, and infection control personnel in a few hospitals who saw this project’s great value. At this point, they started contacting a few more hospitals to explore an interest in bio-suit as a way to increase protection for their staff. Not only was this idea well-received by the hospitals they contacted, but they also started getting referrals.  

Health Professionals wearing Bio-Suits given by Save Your Saviours.

Seeing a high demand for bio suits and other PPE, they decided to set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds. Fremont Bridge Rotary Club also contributed to this cause by raising money for this project. Together they raised $4,050 and were able to work with a few vendors to get bio-suits and other PPE promptly and pilot it in a few hospitals.

These bio-suits were delivered to Medical staff in ICU’S of Kindred Hospital and St. Rose Hospital. In addition, handing over bio suits to Alameda Highland County hospital in Oakland, CA, was immensely satisfying to the team because these residents provide care for the indigent patient population and, with bio suits, could avoid the high risk of catching infections that can prove fatal.

Dr. Steven Sackrin, at Alameda Highland County Hospital, said, “I want to extend our sincere thanks to your organization, Save your Saviors. The contribution of personal protective equipment is deeply appreciated. The bio suits are a particularly great addition to our supplies. The bio suits offer a superior degree of protection. It is so nice that they can be cleaned and reused. Most of our patients already have immense challenges, medical and especially non-medical. And our environment is already a bit threadbare and not on many people’s radar. But a sense of mission generally infuses the facility. It was so great that your organization was willing to share its efforts and contributions with this institution. Thank you very, very much for your generosity, thoughtfulness, and the grit/work that it took to accomplish what you have done.”

Dr. Evelyn Nakagawa at Kindred hospital echoed similar sentiments “Save your Saviors has provided bio suits that offer an extra layer of safety and help healthcare workers focus on their work with peace.

Shivina and Rishabh give materials to Highland Hospital.

Save your Saviors campaign initially raised money and helped save lives of Health care workers to buy Bio suits and launch them in several Intensive care units of Bay Area Hospitals. After finishing their first phase of helping Bay Area Health care workers, they have furthered this campaign to help some other segments of society who are greatly impacted in this COVID crisis time. They have done several drives to raise money to provide food and personal items required for the homeless shelter and domestic violence survivors. They are immensely thankful to several families in the Bay area who generously contributed to such a noble cause. One of the drives with their contributions, approximately worth $2000, has been shared with the vulnerable survivors in dire need.

Whether they are health care workers or underprivileged people in society like domestic violence survivors or homeless shelters, the fight to save people’s lives continues forward by these students’ efforts. They continue with their efforts during this unprecedented time. You can help their efforts here


Shivina Chugh is a rising senior at Mission San Jose High School, Fremont, CA. She is very active in her school clubs, Relay for Life, DECA, Peer Support Group and is the co-founder of the Save Your Saviors, which has helped the medical community during times of COVID-19 and continues to do so. 
Rishabh Saxena is a senior at Bellarmine College Prep School in San Jose, CA. He grew up building lego puzzles, tennis, and skiing. He is passionate about helping people. He founded Save your Saviors to serve the community. 

A Teen’s Writing Contest is a Much Needed Distraction

NYC, New York – I saw how devastating COVID-19 was for so many people in NYC, particularly teenagers who had to adapt their lifestyles. From switching to remote learning to finding ways to stay active and engaged, there have been a lot of changes.  The one thing in common for many of the city’s teens was that boredom set in.  With all conversations and all the news focusing on the coronavirus, many people were also feeling depressed. Vishnu decided to take action and find a way to help other high schoolers cope – through creative writing.  

I decided to organize the Scribe Writing Contest, in the midst of COVID-19, to help provide a pleasant distraction from the current state of events and encourage teens to use their imaginations.  It did not hurt that prizes were also awarded to the winners.

Nobody could have expected or prepared for the devastating effects that the coronavirus would bring this year. Many of us have been isolated at home. Schools went remote. A lot of stores and businesses are closed. Aside from the security concerns caused by this illness, a lot of teens are just bored.  Creative writing provides an avenue for people to express their thoughts and their creativity and a space to imagine something different into being.

The Scribe Writing Contest is a free, online high school creative writing contest open to students all over the world. Students were given a 48-hour window in which to start their essay and had to submit either a poem or short story, within two hours, in response to specific prompts that were given immediately prior to beginning the contest.

For the poetry submissions, entrants were asked to: 

  1. Write a poem that evokes a sense of longing, whatever that might mean to you. 
  2. Write a poem that uses all the following words: “whisper,” “moonlight,” and “tomorrow.” 
  3. Write a poem that centers around nature and the natural world. 

For the Fiction portion of the contest, participants were given the following prompts:

  1. Write a story about two or more people whose pasts are connected. 
  2. Tell the story of a scar – physical or emotional. 
  3.  Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time begins with the line: “For a long time, I went to bed early.” Write a story starting with that line. 

I personally reached out to distinguished English and creative writing professors from across the country and selected seven of them to serve as judges for the contest. In addition, six nonprofit literary publishing companies, whose titles have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, sponsored the contest with cash prizes and books for the winners.  They awarded $2,750 in cash prizes to three winners in the Poetry and Fiction Essays.

Creative writing offers many benefits that are often overlooked and undervalued.  They include confidence building, stimulating the imagination, artistic self-expression, thought clarification, empathy and communication skills, a better understanding of the mechanics of reading and writing, and improved mental, emotional, and physical health. Studies have shown that creative writing alleviates stress levels, and can ward off severe illnesses, among other things.

The contest received an overwhelming response, with almost 900 submissions from teens in 17 countries, spanning six continents.

The winners of the contest were: 

Poetry Winners:

First place: Isabelle Lu, South Side High School (Rockville Centre, NY); Second place: Janet Li, Columbus Academy (Columbus, OH); Third place: Anne Kwok, Milton Academy (Milton, MA)

Fiction Winners:

First place: Frances McKittrick, Saint Ann’s School (Brooklyn, NY); Second place: Alexis Kihm, “I AM” School (Mount Shasta, CA); Third place: Asa Khalid, Berkeley Carroll School (Brooklyn, NY)

The participants expressed their appreciation for providing a brief distraction from some of the stress they had been dealing with in their day-to-day lives, and in a changing environment, due to COVID-19.  There will be another contest next May to provide a creative outlet for more teens.

Creative writing has such an extraordinary capacity to uplift and inspire. If the Scribe Writing Contest enabled students to realize that capacity, even for a moment, then in my eyes it was all worthwhile.


Vishnu Bharathram is a passionate writer and a senior at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.