Organization focuses on intergenerational connections
For many American Legion Auxiliary Girls State alumna, the weeklong program is life changing. High school Juniors get the chance to learn how city and state governments operate, discuss policies they are passionate about, and make lifelong friendships.
“I think what ALA Girls State does a good job of is it puts you in the shoes of state government that most high school students don’t get to experience otherwise,” said Eman Khatri, a 2018 ALA Girls State California alumna. “It was a transformative and pivotal experience for me.”
Khatri said she would highly recommend every female high school Junior apply to the program.
“It’s kind of like a fun summer camp, but super-nerdy, and everyone is super-passionate about the work they are doing,” she said. “It’s exactly what I wanted my high school experience to be like.”
Khatri will start her Junior year at Wellesley College in the fall, majoring in economics. She spent most of last year doing remote learning because of the pandemic. Talking with a friend from MIT, they both realized that a lot of students would now understand the impact of social isolation and how older adults are especially having a hard time.
“I think the pandemic has grown our ability to empathize with one another in a way we wouldn’t have normally,” she said. “Our health is so interdependent on other people’s health, so this is a time when we thought college students especially would understand how older adults feel.”
Taking that passion of caring about the world we live in from her ALA Girls State experience, Khatri and a friend, Bhav Jain, co-founded The Connected Foundation. The organization’s goal is to create intergenerational connections to build stronger communities by connecting more young students and older adults.
“Aging is one of those things a lot of people don’t want to think about always, and it’s one of those things you can’t just solve by throwing money at it,” Khatri said. “America has a huge aging population and it’s becoming something a lot of states need to tackle and face, but there’s not really infrastructure to do so. We are trying to build community and support older adults that way, which is something I think is very timely and relevant, and it’s something a lot of communities could benefit from having more of these connections. I think it helps a lot of younger students as well to have some kind of mentorship.”
The co-founders began cold-calling and emailing senior centers and senior living communities in the Boston area to feel out interest in the program. And just like that, connections started being made.
The two knew they couldn’t accomplish their goal alone and wanted to be able to expand into a nonprofit, so they built a network of over 30 volunteers to lead various departments to work on the different programs and outreach efforts.
The Connected Foundation has four programs — mentorship and matching, education and activities, tech empowerment, and health advocacy .
In education and activities for example, they do hourlong Zoom classes with topics like classical music trivia and traveling adventures.
“Those classes were really fun,” Khatri said. “That’s the most successful program we’ve had.”
The Connected Foundation is currently filing for charitable organization and nonprofit status to become a 501(c). Based in the Boston area, the organization is hoping to expand nationwide. The goal is to have a Connected Foundation chapter at every college or university, even high school, to be able to build those interactions between young students and older adults in communities across the U.S. This fall, they have set a goal for expanding to 50 chapters.
“One of the things we’ve learned is how important connection and empathy is when building stronger communities and just kind of getting through really tough times in people’s lives,” Khatri said.
High school students interested in becoming a volunteer with The Connected Foundation national team can apply here. Students interested in founding a chapter at their high school can directly email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the organization, visit www.connectedfdn.com. For fellow ALA Girls State alumna, you can also contact Khatri directly in the National ALA Girls State Alumnae Network Facebook group.
To learn more about ALA Girls State, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org/ALA-GIrls-State.
By Sara Fowler, Staff Writer