Determined to help local businesses during the pandemic, three high-school programmers put their heads together to create a nonprofit organization that gives back in more ways than one
Seminole High School seniors Akshat Rastogi, Naga Vangara, and Dhruv Dubey have always been highly involved and dedicated students. Most recently, they started an SHS chapter of CRY America (Child Rights and You) to help raise money for children in need. When the COVID-19 pandemic dashed their club’s progress, they quickly regrouped to put their unique strengths and considerable skills in coding and website development to work for the greater good.
“Like millions of students around the world, we were forced to stay at home with nothing to do, with no way to help,” says Akshat, the group’s executive director. “And yet, we wanted to make a difference, so we founded the Coding for Charity nonprofit organization.”
“Since we all have a background in computer science,” explains Dhruv, the organization’s director of marketing, “we thought we could sell homemade websites to small businesses in return for a small donation to charity, resulting in a win-win scenario for the businesses and people in need.”
With a decline in face-to-face interactions and public gatherings due to COVID-19, many businesses are struggling to stay connected to their customers. Coding for Charity fills a need for businesses and organizations to create, design, and implement online platforms to safely interact with customers for services such as online ordering or scheduling. Instead of payment for Coding for Charity’s website services, businesses have the option to donate to other charities providing COVID-19 relief.
“Even when COVID-19 passes, websites can be a major game-changer, especially for small businesses that need exposure,” explains Naga, director of operations. “The funds that we do receive through businesses and donations all go directly to other nonprofit organizations. That way, businesses are helped, and so are people.”
The team seeks out new business the old-fashioned way. They search for local companies that do not appear to have well-functioning websites or an online presence. The teens then create a database of prospects and cold call businesses to pitch their website services.
“We were surprised by the enthusiastic responses we received,” says Akshat.
Coding for Charity has since increased its team to 12 members, the majority of whom are high-school coders from around the country who are interested in using their talents to make an impact. The team is currently working with several local businesses, two of which recently launched websites – a local pizzeria and a grocery store in the Sanford/Lake Mary area. Coding for Charity was also able to secure a partnership with a Web-hosting company called Hostinger, which provides clients with free website-hosting services.
“The only way this idea was going to work is if we worked together,” says Naga. “When it comes to decision making, all three of us have to agree before pursuing an action. Since we all come from different viewpoints, the end result is what’s best for the organization.”
Naga is primarily in charge of Coding for Charity’s social-media outreach. He helps get the word out through flyers, online platforms, the group’s website, posters, forms, and applications. Dhruv spearheads the business branch and deals with finances and communication with clients. Akshat runs the coding branch, in which he leads the team of high-school coders to help make websites. Coding For Charity hopes to expand its business model by eventually creating coding tutorials for middle-school kids, too.
“Coding for Charity allows us to develop our business and computer-science skills while also helping out our local community,” says Dhruv. “The organization forges our interest in charity work and coding, so we can have fun and help people at the same time. My favorite part of the job is talking to the clients and helping them find ways to attract more customers with a website and social-media tools. Knowing that our effort has a positive impact on a person’s livelihood is a feeling like no other.”
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