July 21, 2021

Local Teenager Launches Ambitious Project, Helping Peers Get Informed and Involved

By Donald Gilpin

Aashi Chandna

In early 2020, Aashi Chandna, at the time a ninth grader at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, observed her world in the midst of a spreading pandemic, climate crisis, and widespread social unrest. She wanted to get involved, to make a difference for the better.

“For me, natural disaster relief is something that I really care about,” she said. She had lived through a deadly tsunami with her family in Japan in 2011.

Chandna found that her friends had their own experiences that connected them with certain causes, but none of them knew what to do or how best to participate beyond posting on social media and making small donations.

“It shouldn’t be this difficult to get involved,” said Chandna. So she came up with a solution to help teenagers to get involved, make a difference and keep up to date with the latest headlines.

“Everyone’s biggest excuse for why they don’t know what’s going on in the world is that they don’t have time to read the news,” she said. “It’s difficult to take time out of your day to read the news.”

Last month Chandna launched Project Involve, an online platform she created which now has more than 1,000 users, who can catch up on the daily news in five minutes—or more if they wish— then connect with a related organization that they can immediately begin to support.

“Under each article is a ‘help now’ button,” she said. “I believe that when you’re reading about something, learning about something in the moment, you’re more likely to help out than a few days later when you may have forgotten that you cared about this. The ‘help now’ button takes you to a partnered NGO (nongovernmental organization) in the same category.”

Visitors to the Project Involve website (http://aashichandna.com/involve) first choose whether they have five, ten, fifteen minutes or more to read the news. At any time they can go straight to volunteer opportunities.

The site is programmed to source news stories from the BBC and NPR with automatic updates throughout the day. Tuesday morning’s news page included headlines with one-sentence summaries linked to complete articles on COVID-19 vaccine lies, summer travel outside the country, opioid crisis lawsuits, vaccine requirements, bipartisan talks on infrastructure and spending, restaurant workers’ low pay and rude treatment, Guantanamo, climate change, floods in Germany, a revamped Disney jungle cruise without racist imagery, and much more.

Next to each news story is a “help now” button that takes the user to a page with information on how to help an NGO that is working to address issues raised in the particular news story. Information on the NGOs includes time commitments, age restrictions, skill requirements, and other details for volunteers.

Project Involve is currently partnered with 18 different NGOs. The initial goal was to target only high school students, but the NGOs provide many opportunities for all age groups. The American Heart Association, GiveWell, GlobalGiving, Feeding America, The Hunger Project, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Doctors Without Borders, the Humane Society of the US, Children International, and Girls Inc. are among the NGOs represented on the website.

Chandna, who is preparing for the start of her junior year this fall, discussed the growing enterprise she has created. “I feel like today’s youth is more vocal and politically driven than ever before, and I think we want to find the right avenues to direct our passions,” she said. “A lot of people feel overwhelmed when they’re reading the news and struggle to understand how best to tackle the problems we see. Ultimately the goal of Project Involve is to give people an avenue to become more aware of what’s going on and to apply their understanding and passion.”

She added, “This project connects the world’s most passionate young students with the world’s most deserving nonprofits. I am passionate about tackling large social inequities, and I hope to transform the world for the better.”