MILPITAS, Calif. — The Touch-A-Life Foundation, founded by Indian American data engineer Tej Gundavelli, launched a new app Nov. 15 at its annual ‘Giving Day’ that directly connects donors to people, organizations, and schools in need of funding and supplies.
As bursts of confetti flittered down, the app was launched onstage at the India Community Center here during an evening of performances featuring local dancers and musicians. Leaders from corporate sponsors Solix Technologies and Emagia joined Gundavelli onstage for the launch. Veena Gundavelli, Tej’s mother, is the founder of Emagia; her husband Sai is the founder and CEO of Solix.
The app can now be downloaded free from the Google play store, and can be used on Android and Apple devices. Users can register themselves as donors, donees or donee organizations — people, organizations, or school districts in need of funding or supplies — volunteers, or corporate donors.
“We are gamifying kindness through a social network for doing good. Everyone in the community can help those in need,” Gundavelli said onstage, noting that supporters receive “kindness points.”
“We can take what’s great about our communities and leverage it to support those in need,” he said.
The young social entrepreneur — a graduate of UC Berkeley who now works as a data engineer at PayPal — began the groundwork for the Touch-A-Life Foundation as a senior at Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif. Gundavelli discovered he was good at fundraising, and his family encouraged him to think beyond the needs of his school.
While volunteering at a homeless shelter, he learned that there were 70 homeless children in his district alone, many who could not afford to buy backpacks which are necessary for school.
Gundavelli started doing “backpack” runs; he delivered 200 backpacks in his senior year throughout the San Jose Unified School District. He kept the project going as he attended UC Berkeley.
“As an Indian American, I felt something needed to be done to help people in my local community,” he told India-West.
Explaining the app, Gundavelli noted that people can donate money, or give an in-kind donation; the TAL Foundation is set up to manage the movement of supplies to organizations and schools that need them.
Volunteer opportunities can also be developed through the app, he explained.
People in need can use the app to request support. Asked by India-West how homeless people could directly engage with those that might help them, Gundavelli noted that smart phones are now ubiquitous and many un-sheltered people now have access to them. Donees can also use computers at public libraries or at schools to access the app.
The TAL annual Giving Day did not raise funds for the organization, said Gundavelli, noting that the goal was to have people download and engage with the new app.
The evening event featured several speakers from local organizations and school districts who are currently working with the TAL Foundation. Monica Quintana of Abode Shelter Services, which prioritizes permanent housing for homeless people, said that the foundation was an ally in the organization’s quest to provide services. Currently, Abode has a shelter in Fremont, Calif. — Sunrise Village — which supports 60 residents, including those who are working or going to school. As people transition into permanent housing, Abode throws a housewarming party, equipping new residents with home appliances, boxes of food, and grants to buy furniture.
“All the stuff you need to start a new life,” said Quintana.
John Rubio, Associate Superintendent of Human Resources at East Side Union High School District in San Jose, noted that across the country, more than half a million people are homeless; about 25,000 of them are children.
“Children are living in cars, or going from home to home. Going to school while homeless can be really challenging,” said Rubio, adding: “Some of our students really rely on the school district to get through high school.”
“We appreciate that an app like this exists. Thank you for giving our students additional support,” said Rubio.
Steven Neese, of the Santa Clara Unified School District, also expressed his enthusiasm for the TAL app. “There’s a disconnect between folks who have a lot and those who don’t. We have had a disability to bring services to those who need them.”
“The time is so right for this app. It can create the alignment we all know is possible,” he said.
Marion Campbell, co-founder of Eddie’s House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, received the TAL Hero award for her work in housing young adults who age out of the foster care system. Campbell received the award from Roger Royse, founder of the Royse Law Firm. Campbell told India-West that young adults who age out of the foster care system are at the greatest risk of becoming homeless; support services end once kids turn 18.
Garrett Jensen received the TAL Hero award from Toru Kashima, president of SRA Holdings. Jensen is on the front lines of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation; he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. Jensen helps to organize the JDRF One Walk, Silicon Valley, and leads the EY Carb Accounters on the annual fundraiser.
“It’s not hard to be kind, but it takes some effort,” said Jensen in his acceptance speech. “You can do it in so many ways,” he said.
The evening event featured many dance and music performances by Bollywood Dance Connection, the TaalSur Academy, the Niseishin Daiko drummers, Ballet Folklorico Mexico de Rafael Ramos, and singers Sai Manasa and Sunitha.