WILLIAMSON COUNTY (KXAN) — Three sophomore students from two local high schools are using their time away from class to make a difference in the community, one child at a time.

Shashank Shah, Nithin Reddy and Meghanasri Ganta founded “Giving A Ray Of Hope” in May 2020 to improve children’s lives inside hospitals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Picture collage of donations from the nonprofit’s second service project (Giving A Ray Of Hope)

The nonprofit collects and donates toys, games and cards to then give to the hospitalized kids.

“Children can play with them,” Ganta said. “It can give them company… They can keep [the card] and just look back to it whenever they’re having a dark day.”

“These toys and games also help reduce stress, even if it’s like for 30 minutes,” Shah said. “Getting a new thing will basically divert your focus off of that treatment you’re going through and back to the normal things they were used to before they went to the hospital, which is caring about toys and games. Diverting their attention for 30 minutes, I think that’s a success cause that gives them 30 more minutes of happiness.”

When Shah reached out to the others to join last year, their “passions aligned,” Ganta said. For her, especially, caring for kids in hospitals hit home. She is a former cardiac patient.

“I do have the experience of being in a hospital and looking back to those days, I actually did receive toys while I was there and I still have some of them,” she said. “[It’s] amazing seeing all of us come together to create this.”

“I always see a smile on children’s faces, especially when they’re going through a severe challenge and fighting through something, I think it’s really amazing to do something for them,” she continued.

Reddy said he was fascinated by the idea and wanted to use his free time for something greater as he navigates high school.

Since the trio officially launched in July 2020, they’ve grown considerably to 80 members. Those who’ve joined are from at least 8 different schools, mostly around the Round Rock/Leander area, but also from around the world.

With its first two service projects, the international group has impacted more than 250 children.

For its most recent service project, at the beginning of March 2021, the nonprofit donated more than 400 cards and gifts to Dell Children’s Comprehensive Care Clinic.

The group donated more than 400 cards and origami to Dell Children’s Medical Group (Giving A Ray Of Hope)

“In our cards, we made our members write one joke and one thoughtful message,” Reddy said. “A couple of them wrote puns and just fun things so the children could maybe laugh when they read it.”

“It was really astonishing seeing the success of the service project,” Ganta said. “When we donated it, the nurse was really happy. It was good to see the fact that we were helping the children.”

In December 2020, for its first service project, the group donated more than 50 hand-made coloring books to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Round Rock. Members drew the coloring books’ Christmas-themed designs.

“We’re all teenagers and we also have younger siblings. We have firsthand experience with children,” Shah said. “I haven’t been in a hospital myself, which I’m thankful for that, but I do know a couple of my friends that have… Even the smallest thing can make a difference.”

Aside from the outward service, the nonprofit does internal projects such as blog posts, Instagram posts, and outreach to other organizations.

The nonprofit has its third service project in the works, set to start at the end of April/beginning of May. It’ll be an online service via Zoom. The group is putting together fun quizzes for willing and available kids at hospitals. Winners will receive prizes from the hospitals involved. Nonprofit members will help read questions during each quiz session.

“It gives all of us joy knowing that we’re benefitting the community and helping those in need,” Ganta said.

You learn more about the nonprofit on their website, as well as get involved. New members can join four different teams: sponsor/fundraiser, outreach/marketing, graphing/design, and writing/research. Through joining, you can also gain volunteer hours.