Students’ reinforce community through grassroots organizations

Many students have ideas on how to support the local community. Several of Vernon Hills’ own have recently brought these ideas into fruition by creating charitable organizations that have a genuine and tangible impact in our community. 

HSHH advertises their posters for Sue’s Pantry.
HSHH advertises their posters for
Sue’s Pantry. (Jack Gagamov)

Hunger’s High School Heroes (HHSH) @hhsh_2022

Vetri Jagannath (12) created HHSH with his friends out of summer boredom. They organized their first food drive and partnered up with Sue’s Pantry, a local headquarters for food donations run out of the garage of Sue Gandhi, a Vernon Hills resident.

HHSH is a testament to how simple and easy it is to spread goodwill.

“There’s not really much structure to it. We have a group chat and we plan out what we’re going to do to get things done, like putting up flyers, asking for permission to put up drives,” said Jack Gagamov (12) a founding member of HHSH. 

And the impact is real, according to Gagamov, who said it was interesting to see how many people wanted to help. At their first food drive alone, they garnered six car trunks’ worth of food.

“It was just a great feeling to do all this work, collect all the food and then give it to [Sue] and her being able to give it to the community,” said Mark Mitkovetsky (12), another member of HHSH.

Donations came from a diverse population of people who want to support our local community, according to Srivatsa Vinay (12).

“It was everyone, including refugees from Afghanistan and people from Ukraine who migrated here after the worst of [the war],” he said.

The aftermath of world-changing events like the pandemic was a major source of the group’s motivation to fight hunger. 

“We don’t really have a super special goal, it’s just to help people,” said Gagamov. “It’s been a rough past few years for everybody.”

HSHH is currently working on a food drive for the holiday season.

A flyer for Mentor Center’s free service.
A flyer for Mentor Center’s free

Mentor Center Tutoring @mentor_center_tutoring

Anika Desphande (12) is aiding the community through an online tutoring network. Mentor Center tutors Kindergarten through 8th grade in math, reading, and science. She created the organization with her cousin after noticing “a lot of disconnect with teachers and students” with online school. 

Desphande wanted Mentor Center to be non-profit to make the resource more accessible to low-income communities who may not be able to afford high-priced tutoring. It wouldn’t be a volunteer service if tutors were making money, according to her.

“Some people think the tutoring is just for the students, but the high schoolers are getting experience as well,” she said. “So I wouldn’t feel right paying for them when they’re already getting a benefit.”

The organization is a beneficial experience for the tutors as much as it is for younger ones. 

“We thought it would be a really good chance for high schoolers to have the opportunity to get their volunteer hours for clubs like NHS and just to have that mentoring experience I feel a lot of us don’t have.”

The group currently has 25 to 30 students and is going strong. Desphande says feedback from the parents has been overall positive.

“I know a lot of students’ parents love the tutors so much that they’re signing up the child’s friend to also be with them,” she said. 

The process to find a tutor is relatively simple: parents can reach out by filling out a Google Form, then Desphande’s team sends out the contact information of a tutor that can teach what the student is looking for. She says schedules are up to the students and based on how much they want to do.

For other students who are looking to grow their own non-profits, Desphande says to “keep pushing.”

“I know that sounds really cliche, but it took a lot of work to start [Mentor Center] because I had to accept the fact that things were gonna go wrong,” she said. “Don’t be sad at the fact that it doesn’t grow at first because there’s a lot more time for that to happen.”

With the pandemic slowing down, Desphande hopes to expand outreach beyond just Vernon Hills, and move into in-person learning in the near future.