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 Pennsylvania Teen’s Nonprofit Connects With Seniors

What started as a personal, local effort has blossomed into a national endeavor with thousands of volunteers participating.

 

Hita Gupta knew at an early age that she had a special connection with the elderly. She and her 10-year-old brother, Divit, have always had a close relationship with their grandparents. Their closeness is what inspired her to find opportunities to connect with older generations. 
 
“I knew that I could help, and I wanted to find a way to interact with seniors,” she says.

Now, at the age of 15, Gupta is running her own nonprofit that is bringing encouragement and hope to residents in long term care facilities. Brighten A Day has reached thousands of seniors in the United States through cards, video messages, and care packages. Her goal is simple: to lift the spirits of seniors and remind them that they are not alone.

A Local Start

It all began in middle school when Gupta started writing cards for children in hospitals and residents in senior communities in her hometown of Paoli, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. She soon got her community involved through partnerships with her local school district and public libraries.

During her freshman year of high school, Gupta started a club called Brighten A Day. As her club grew, she made the decision to turn it into a nonprofit. In 2019, Brighten A Day became an official 501(c)(3) and has grown into a national organization with thousands of volunteers of all ages from locations across the country.

At the same time, she began volunteering weekly at a local assisted living community. She spent most weekends at the facility talking to residents and helping organize activities like trivia and Bingo. She also worked with residents with dementia. The bonds they formed were mutually beneficial. She loved spending time with the residents, and they loved spending time with her.

Going National

Then COVID-19 hit. Nursing facilities and assisted living communities had to make the difficult decision to temporarily suspend outside visitation in order to stop the spread of the virus. When Gupta was told she could no longer visit, she thought about the residents and the loneliness and isolation that would soon follow. She knew it was an opportunity for Brighten A Day to step up.

Gupta immediately sprang into action and began sending care packages to long term care facilities in and around her community. The packages included large-print puzzles, adult coloring books, colored pencils, and a handwritten note by her brother, Divit. She traveled all over, personally delivering packages to the facilities.

In addition to care packages, Gupta and Brighten A Day volunteers send encouraging notes, cards, and video messages to long term care residents nationwide. As virtual visits have taken the place of in-person visits, she has so far been able to donate 20 tablets to facilities that need them.

Hita and Divit Gupta search far and wide for senior communities across the country to share their messages of encouragement. When they find a community they want to help, they contact the facility and ask if they’d be interested in working with Brighten A Day. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“They’re all looking for ways to lift the spirits of seniors right now,” Hita Gupta says. “There was one nursing home in Hawaii that told us that they shared our cards and notes and our video messages. The residents started to cry because they had been isolated for so long. It touched them that someone was actually thinking about them right now.”

A Closer Connection

Brandywine Living at Haverford Estates in Delaware County, Pa., is one community that Brighten A Day has touched. Activities Director Bonnie Edenfield first learned of Brighten A Day when Hita Gupta delivered 50 care packages to her for each of her residents, whose ages range from 70 to 103.

Edenfield and Gupta began communicating via email and soon coordinated video chats between volunteers and residents via Zoom, a video conference software program. Gupta provided Edenfield with a spreadsheet of volunteers and their interests. From there, Edenfield was able to match the volunteers with her residents. Currently, three of her residents have daily Zoom chats with three different volunteers from Brighten A Day. 

“They look forward to that call every day,” she says. “It’s absolutely making a difference.”

Edenfield also shared a story about one resident who loves to play Canasta but hasn’t been able to play since visitation was stopped. When Gupta found out, she quickly sent the word out to her army of volunteers. It wasn’t long before Edenfield was connected with four volunteers who learned how to play the game on YouTube so they could play with the resident online.

Getting the Word Out

Through social media, word of mouth, and networking sites like Volunteer Match, Brighten A Day has established a presence in all 50 states. Gupta’s GoFundMe page has enabled her to buy the supplies she needs to put smiles on the faces of seniors nationwide. Since the pandemic began, Brighten A Day has even gone international. Nursing facilities in Scotland, Australia, Ireland, England, Germany, and Italy have received encouraging cards and video messages from its volunteers.

Gupta is grateful to her parents for Brighten A Day’s success. “I couldn’t have carried out this project without their support,” she says. Whether it was helping her with the rigorous process of forming a 501(c)(3) or driving her to drop off care packages, her parents’ love and encouragement have meant a lot to her. 

Brighten A Day has captured the attention of the media nationwide. The work that she and her volunteers have done has made headlines on ABC News, CNN, FOX News, and dozens of local television stations and newspapers.

Seeking Personal Connections

Gupta has been overwhelmed by the impact Brighten A Day has made, especially during the pandemic. While cards and video messages have been the mainstay of their COVID outreach, she’s currently looking for nursing facilities that are interested in video chats similar to the ones she helped set up at Brandywine Living. Many of her volunteers are eager to have conversations with long term care residents to give them the human interaction they may be missing while they’re unable to see their loved ones face to face.

As a junior at Conestoga High School, Gupta has a full workload with her studies, but still finds time to dedicate to Brighten A Day. While on summer break she has more free time, but during the school year, she spends at least eight hours a day leading her organization.

“It’s literally like a full-time job,” she laughs.

When asked if she aspires to a career in long term care, Gupta replies that she isn’t sure yet. “Right now, I’m just trying to make a difference.”

There are many ways individuals can support Brighten A Day. To learn more about how to get involved, visit https://brightenaday.weebly.com/get-involved.html.
 
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