“Help others in your community.” With Penny Bauder & Maya Joshi

Helping others in your community is a very gratifying experience. Every trivia game I host and every conversation I have makes me smile. Using your strengths to bring smiles to members of your community is a positive experience and a great way to give back. As part of my series about young people who are […]

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Helping others in your community is a very gratifying experience. Every trivia game I host and every conversation I have makes me smile. Using your strengths to bring smiles to members of your community is a positive experience and a great way to give back.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Joshi.

As a freshman in high school during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maya Joshi founded a nonprofit called Lifting Hearts with the Arts. Lifting Hearts with the Arts aims to bridge social gaps and address social isolation by connecting high school students with seniors through video calls and art activities.

Maya enjoys painting, drawing and listening to good music. You can find her playing board games with her family, running along the Chicago lakefront or trying out crazy science experiments. She is an avid Star Wars fan and loves to hear a good pun.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Iwas born and raised in Chicago and am a city girl! I have a twin sister named Riya. I’ve loved the arts since I was little. At an early age, I played the piano and loved to draw and paint. My favorite way to spend free time was by playing board games with my family. We were very competitive, especially while playing Boggle and Settlers of Catan. We loved to bike, run and take walks along the Chicago lakefront.

You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Lifting Hearts with the Arts focuses on bridging the expanding social gaps between youth and the senior population brought on by quarantines and other circumstances. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large majority of the senior population is facing social isolation. We try to connect the seniors with high school volunteers through technology and through the arts in an effort to lift their spirits and improve their mental health.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause? SOCIAL GAPS

Honestly, the covid 19 induced shelter in place started the whole thing. My isolation with my family and impact on my access to my grandparents kindled the idea of expanding social connection by using technology and willing volunteers.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The Aha moment was the start of the shelter-in-place order in Illinois. When it hit, I thought about my grandparents. I call them every day and I love visiting them. Their anniversary was coming up and we couldn’t celebrate with them in person. I thought about how I spent so much of my early childhood going over to their house, specifically weaving with my grandma and painting with my grandpa. I really felt for all those kids who couldn’t spend time with their grandparents in person. I recognized how much they loved getting video and phone calls and wanted to share the same joys with as many seniors as possible. I knew that I needed to create a program to facilitate my idea, and I decided to discuss my idea with family and share it with friends.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

Once I began to formulate the idea for Lifting Hearts with the Arts, I brought it up with my family over breakfast. We discussed what the program would entail and how it would run. I reached out to two friends and talked to my twin sister to ask if they had an interest in becoming the core board for the organization. We outlined goals and plans for the organization and started reaching out to senior living facilities and our other high school friends to build Lifting Hearts with the Arts.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

When we first started meeting with the residents, none of us realized how much we would have in common with the seniors. One day, I was hosting a trivia game for a group of 6 residents via Zoom, and we started talking about languages the residents took in high school. I told them that I’m taking Latin, not expecting anyone to have taken it. It turned out that all 6 of them had taken Latin in high school! We started reminiscing about texts that we had all read in school, and they even offered some advice for translating some of Virgil and Caesar’s texts! We all laughed about our Latin classroom experiences.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

When I first began contacting nursing homes, I filled out digital contact forms on their websites. I mostly just submitted my name and number. Over the course of the following weeks, I received several calls and emails asking details about when I’d like to move in, how good my health was, and what type of room I’d like to live in. Initially, I was a bit thrown off and didn’t understand why so many people thought I was looking to move into a senior living facility. I had to explain several times that I was a high school student and wanted to set up virtual volunteering for the nursing home. When I shared my experience with my family, we had a good laugh. I learned how to be more direct and accurate in contacting activities directors at retirement homes to offer our services.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Definitely. My parents have been amazing mentors. Whenever I have a new idea, I always run it by them. My grandparents have been my biggest cheerleaders and were the organization’s first followers on Facebook!

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One of the residents that signed up for our program didn’t know how to use tablets and was very uncomfortable with video calls. She had never video chatted with her family and only talked to them over the phone a few times since the beginning of the Illinois stay-at-home order in mid-March. After meeting with one of our volunteers regularly every week, she began to look forward to her weekly video calls. She and the volunteer connected over TV shows, songs and having sisters who didn’t like to clean their rooms. After several meetings, the resident became very comfortable with video chatting, and finally found the courage to video call her family. Now, the volunteer teaches her how to use tablets during their weekly meetings!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes! School communities can foster engagement between students and seniors by engineering programs where students can meet with seniors at various nursing homes throughout the school year. Secondly, the community can help encourage the use of new technology in senior living facilities to help them connect with others. Lastly, politicians can help Lifting Hearts with the Arts gain more traction to generate enough funding to donate iPads or other devices to as many senior living facilities as possible.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. There are so many different types of nursing homes. When I was making calls to different facilities, I didn’t know that different types of facilities existed, like memory care, and assisted living, independent living. I wish had initially learned more about the types of facilities.
  2. Many nursing homes have almost no technology that can be used by residents. When I was making phone calls to activities directors across Illinois, I assumed that each facility had several devices that residents could use to video call with friends and family. I quickly learned this was not the case. In one of my calls, an activities director said that the facility had one iPad, which was shared by 200 residents!
  3. How long it takes to become a nonprofit. As soon as Lifting Hearts with the Arts was founded and we learned about the lack of technology and art supplies in many senior living facilities, we decided to apply to become a nonprofit. I didn’t realize that it would take a little over one month to become a nonprofit and even longer to obtain tax-exempt status.
  4. The right era of music to pick. One of the group activities we offer is called ‘Name that Tune,’ where a volunteer will play the first one minute of a song and the residents need to guess the name of the song and artist. Some of our high school volunteers weren’t sure what decade to play music from. One even started playing 80s and 90s music, but no one was able to guess the song correctly. After talking to several of the seniors, we found that 40s and 60s music was the most popular. In fact, I have found a new love for the musical jams of the 50s and 60s!
  5. How difficult it can be to get a group of people on a schedule. With the uncertainty of scheduling brought on by COVID-19, it was very difficult to create schedules for each of the volunteers. The organization’s communications director, Ellie, does an incredible job putting together a detailed weekly schedule for each of our volunteers to connect with our seniors.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Helping others in your community is a very gratifying experience. Every trivia game I host and every conversation I have makes me smile. Using your strengths to bring smiles to members of your community is a positive experience and a great way to give back.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Lori Lightfoot, Chicago’s mayor. I admire her tenacity and her commitment to social justice and equity. She is an inspiring woman with a great back story who is helping my city move forward in difficult times. Her stay at home memes have really connected well with me and my generation. I am impressed with how she is using a bit of humor to help us all navigate trying times. I highly suggest looking at her memes!

How can our readers follow you online?

We have a weekly blog on our website and Instagram, twitter and Facebook accounts!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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