Hita Gupta used to volunteer at a nursing home near her residence in Paoli, trying to brighten the days of the senior citizens in the long-term care facility.
Now she spreads sunshine far and wide.
A 15-year-old sophomore at Conestoga High School, Gupta has created a nonprofit organization that specializes in bringing cheer to socially isolated seniors as well as hospitalized children.
Her Brighten A Day foundation started out by sending goody bags — each one stuffed with an adult coloring book, a large-print puzzle book, and packs of colored pencils — to Philadelphia-area nursing homes, and sending letters with uplifting messages to facilities in neighboring states.
But backed by donations through a GoFundMe page as well as the work of an expanding army of volunteers, Gupta has since widened the scope of her project, which has reached as far as Hawaii and now includes videoed messages as well as the delivery of smart devices to help residents communicate with loved ones.
“It’s been wonderful to see how many people have reached out to help,” Gupta said. “We’ve been able to reach so many seniors — who are among the loneliest people in our society — and let them know they are not alone.”
Gupta’s project has lifted spirits at Genesis Wayne Center, according to Kaylee Nichols, the facility’s recreation director.
“It’s impressive to see a high school student take that kind of initiative,” Nichols said. “That generation, they normally don’t think about seniors."
Gupta was motivated to take action when the coronavirus outbreak meant she was no longer allowed to visit the nursing home where she had been a volunteer.
“That made me determined to do something else to try to help,” Gupta said.
At first, she used her own money to purchase the materials for the goody bags, which she dropped off at area nursing homes.
She soon realized she could make a bigger impact. She started the GoFundMe page, expanded the foundation’s website, and began organizing volunteers from around the country to write cards or make videos for nursing-home residents, who have been the most severely impacted by COVID-19.
“They have so much anxiety, in addition to loneliness,” Gupta said.
Some of her volunteers specialize in having conversations with seniors, and she herself has taken part.
“Some of them get teary-eyed,” Gupta said. “But we just talk about regular stuff. They are so appreciative, knowing somebody wants to talk with them. It’s hard, because their families can’t go and see them.”
She said her interactions with seniors are reminiscent of her weekly Skype calls with her grandparents, who live in India. That’s why Gupta expanded her project to include the acquisition and distribution of smart devices — anything that will enable Skype or Zoom access — to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
She recently dropped off a donated Kindle device to Genesis Wayne Center.
“What she is doing is more important than ever, given the restrictions created by the lockdown,” Nichols said, noting that the Wayne Center residents have been unable to see family and friends since mid-March. “For a young girl to let them know there are total strangers out there that care about them, it’s really extraordinary.”
The foundation’s website — brightenaday.weebly.com — includes a page filled with thank-you notes from facilities around the country.
From Woodbury Senior Living in Minnesota: “The residents are enjoying your cards and feeling your love.”
From Maunalani Nursing and Rehab Center in Hawaii: “Aloha Hita. Your ‘Brighten a Day’ has TRULY IMPRESSED us … you have made many of our people cry because they are very happy and touched.”
From Hibbard Skilled Nursing and Rehab Center in Maine: “This is amazing work you are doing. Thank you for thinking of us.”
Gupta works most of her days on her project. She spends the rest of her time doing schoolwork — her favorite subject is math — as well as reading. She has a big helper in brother Divit, 10, who writes many of the cards and helps assemble the goody bags in the family’s living room.
“I’m very proud that Hita is able to bring smiles to so many seniors and children,” her mother, Swati, wrote in an email.
Gupta said her foundation’s name is a reflection of her determination to chase away doubt and depression for folks in need.