As quarantining due to coronavirus began to take effect, Pooja Yerneni and Shweta Raman started to think about loneliness.
The two had frequent chats over FaceTime and Zoom, and they talked a lot about isolation. Specifically, how it affected young hospital patients.
“During quarantine, we realized how lonely patients are during this time due to limited visiting hours and lack of contact with friends and family,” the pair said in an email.
The Robbinsville High School students wanted to do something productive, so they put their heads together and came up with an idea: Interconnectd.
The organization groups children together based on interests and arranges free Zoom calls. The aim is to provide patients with a sense of companionship during a time when they may not be getting much human interaction outside of doctors and nurses.
“Our primary goal is to make sure that we can reach as many hospitalized children as we can to ensure that they don’t have to feel as if they are alone during these tough times,” Raman and Yerneni said.
And they certainly have the capacity to reach a lot of children—Interconnectd currently has 65 volunteers, hailing from five countries and 14 states.
Patients or their parents fill out a form on the Interconnectd website that gives the group a general idea of who the child is and what they like.
“Depending on what the child is interested in doing, we offer an array of options such as watching a movie together, doing an arts/crafts project, playing a game or just hanging out,” they said.
Interconnectd took on a fundraising angle in early August. The girls hosted a socially distant event Aug. 8, collecting books, boardgames and cash donations for area hospitals. In all, they raised $932, which was donated to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. They also received over 1,000 books and games, which will be delivered to Capital Health and CHOP.
Raman and Yerneni hope to make the Books and Boardgames fundraiser an annual event, and they have plans for a tennis tournament once things start to open up again.
The girls are both juniors at Robbinsville High School. They play tennis together, take part in Mock Trial together and dance in a Bollywood club together. Outside of RHS, they give swimming lessons at the Childrens Specialized Hospital in Hamilton. Interconnectd was a natural endeavor for them, they said.
Raman is also a member of the Nemesis 2590 robotics team and Robbinsville’s multicultural club. She volunteers at local daycares during the summer, and she hopes to become a pediatrician.
Yerneni is a dancer—she teaches and performs. She also tutors in her spare time. She wants to work as a pediatric anesthesiologist.
It’s their wide range of interests and closeness in age to their patients that allow Interconnectd to be successful, they said.
“We definitely do think that it is easier for children to feel more comfortable interacting with us and the team of Interconnectd since we all are young students,” they said. “Our entire organization is built on the value of empathy, so it is something that we really stress. We were kids not a while back, so that helps, and we each have our own personal experiences interacting with children.”
And that’s something they hope to keep going beyond the pandemic. They decided that what Interconnectd offers has value beyond quarantine.
“Although we started this organization because of COVID-19, we found that it has a place even in the normal world without a global pandemic at hand,” Raman and Yerneni said. “Seeing the immense support and love that the Robbinsville community has given us, just made us more inclined to continue with Interconnectd.”
To sign up, to volunteer or for more information, visit sites.google.com/view/interconnectd.