In 2021, 606,031 children were served by the foster care system in the US, The AFCARS Report.
“Community has become desensitized but what gives me hope is that there is still time to fix it, there are people who go out every day to take action and I hope this continues,” Pravneet Chadha, Founder of Project Smile AZ.
Smiling is a sign of happiness, a universal and indistinct gesture that unites every human being. It is an ancient tradition engraved in our genes. In fact, we begin to smile inside our mother’s womb. Looking at a smile can be contagious, but helping others to feel the joy that translates into a smile is the greatest achievement, something that Pravneet and Hurshneet Chadha have made possible for over 80,000 people through their initiative, Project Smile AZ.
Pravneet Chadha is only 15 years old and he has already founded a nonprofit organization that has impacted over 80,000 people through over 10 different programs in 3 years. He founded Project Smile AZ along with his brother Hurshneet when they were 12 and 15 years old.
Both brothers were born in New York City but they moved with their family to Phoenix, Arizona. Currently, Pravneet is in high school while his brother is working towards his bachelor’s degree in Business. Both of their parents are doctors. It was their family who motivated the two brothers to engage in working for their community.
“When I was 5, my mother took us to the community kitchen and we would help hand out the meals, pack food, and cook. It made me feel great,” remembers Pravneet. “We were very young and didn’t know much about what we were doing but we just knew we were doing something good.”
It was during one evening in 2020, at their dinner table, that the idea of their first philanthropic project came to life. Their parents were sharing the visitation restrictions that their patients were facing due to health emergencies and that sparked Pravneet and Hurshneet’s interest in sending out words of comfort.
“The idea came from a dinner talk,” says Pravneet. “We heard on the news how isolated people were. We were talking about it with our parents. Everything was shutting down and there was no way families could meet the patients. They were completely isolated from everyone. We wanted to make them feel that someone was there for them, that someone cared for them. Suddenly, my brother said: ‘Maybe we should make some cards for them’. We thought it was a great idea.”
Project Smile AZ
It took two weeks of daily work to make around 200 motivational handmade cards for the patients. Pravneet and Hurshneet designed and drew every one of the cards and wrote uplifting messages for the patients by hand.
“Our first project was making cards for patients,” recalls Parvneet. “I remember vividly the first batch of cards we gave was to the hospital, Banner Estrella. We reached out to the CEO of the hospital and asked if it would be ok if we sent some cards for the patients, and he agreed. They still have some cards hanging there, which is pretty awesome to see.”
Pravneet and Hurshneet thought that would be a one-time project, but a letter of appreciation written by the CEO of the hospital made them realize the impact of their work.
“When we got the letter we realized this was something meaningful. We decided to keep going, making more cards and trying to help out. Since then we have branched out to a lot of initiatives,” says Pravneet.
In 3 years, this dynamic duo has continued with the project of card making, establishing their nonprofit organization with the addition of three board members and over 1,000 volunteers from all over the United States, Canada, India, and Europe. Now, they send the cards to hospitals, homeless shelters, veterans, and cancer centers.
Additionally, they have programs to promote literacy, conduct food drives, provide youth in need with dental hygiene kits, collect sports equipment for children, promote environmental clean-ups, and provide art kits for children in foster care.
Foster Children in The United States
In 2021, 606,031 children were served by the foster care system and 391,098 remained in foster care by September of that year, according to The AFCARS Report made by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. The children who enter this system range from less than a year to 20 years old. Only 4% of these children stayed less than a month in foster care while 38% spent from 1 to 11 months, 14% from a year to 17 months, 12% from 3 to 4 years, and 6% 5 years or more.
In only one year – 2021 – 206,812 children entered the foster care system from causes like neglect 63%, parental drug abuse 36%, physical abuse 12%, parent incarceration 6%, abandonment 5%, and others as noted in the report. Furthermore, 113,589 children were expecting to be adopted that year, and 51% of them remained in foster care with non-relative families.
Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates how being removed from the family environment is a traumatizing experience for children who experience not only separation and loss but also emotions of uncertainty.
Putting a Smile on Foster Children’s Faces
For Pravneet the needs of children in foster care became visible when someone close to him opened his eyes to this unfortunate reality at a very young age.
“I first learned about foster kids in my elementary school when one of my friends did not have art supplies to complete his project and I shared mine with him during lunch hour,” recalls Pravneet. “I went home and the next day, I shared with him a bag of art supplies. I can never forget the smile on my friend’s face.”
That is why when he and his brother started receiving art supplies donations after the public knew about their card-making project, they decided to begin making art kits to share with other children.
Since then, Project Smile AZ has made 7 art kit donations using recycled and reused materials. Now they are working on their biggest art kit donation which is why they decided to reach out to The Pollination Project for funds to obtain the supplies they need.
“I found out about TPP online. Just hearing that The Pollination Project thought that our project was a good idea is just awesome because we are not only helping the environment by reusing materials, reducing, and recycling, but also because through art we can help the mental state of these kids who are going through a tough time already. Our project is to create art kits to give to 300 foster kids in the Arizona Foster Alliance in connection with The Pollination Project and we are going to do it with reused materials like card boxes and donations from supplies that people already have”.
Each kit will include cardstock, crayons, colored pencils, stickers, markers, cardboard box, and a letter on top to brighten up their day. The children will be encouraged to make cards with those materials that will later be donated to Senior homes in Arizona to also put a smile on their faces.
Pravneet and Hurshneet’s initiatives have been widely recognized winning the Diana Award for our humanitarian efforts, from Digital4Good, Frances McClelland Youth Visionaries to ASU’s Out of the Box Innovator award, and these amazing young leaders will surely continue their efforts to spread kindness and inspire many more smiles.
“We are trying to make a better community where everyone looks out for each other with kindness”, says Pravneet.
If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future!
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