Johns Creek student makes ‘buddy packages’ for foster kids

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

The pandemic opened the eyes of a North Fulton County student to the challenging world of foster care and his heart to do something to help.

When schoolwork fell off in the early days of the pandemic, India native and longtime Johns Creek resident Sunil Kalva insisted that his two children devote time to reading and researching about the world and their surroundings.

Son Akhil took his father’s words seriously and, in doing so, stumbled across an article on foster kids, a subject that was totally foreign to a young man growing up in a loving, upper-class, two-parent household.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

His father said that the more Akhil (pronounced Uhk-hil) learned about the foster care system and the children in it, the more interested he became.

“He really felt he wanted to help but didn’t know how or what to do,” he said.

Continuing his research online, Akhil connected with a Michigan woman whose heartstrings, like his, had been pulled by the children’s plight.

Akhil decided to mimic what she’d done and create what he calls “buddy packages” to help these children, some of whom are plucked from their homes and temporarily placed in foster care in the middle of the night for safety’s sake.

To date, Akhil, now 16 and a junior at Chattahoochee High School in Johns Creek, has made more than 130 buddy packages for these newly displaced children.

The packages, which cost about $20 to make, include pajamas, toothbrushes and toothpaste, hairbrush, towel, and other age- and gender-appropriate basics that might be forgotten in the rush to make a foster-care placement.

“I at least wanted to help them in the transition because I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be,” Akhil said. “I felt that was a way to fix a very small problem in a very big area.”

He delivers the buddy packages to the Fulton County Department of Family and Children Services, the agency overseeing children in foster care.

DFACS staff members are very appreciative.

“They said they were grateful someone is thinking about these kids,” Akhil said.

With help from his father, Akhil created a website about the buddy packages and the nonprofit he’s created. Donations can be made through the website and are matched dollar-for-dollar by the company where his father works.

It’s been an important project for Akhil, one he said he hopes he can devote more time to and encourage others to join.

Sunil Kalva describes his son as a kind person and someone who “strongly believes that he has grown up in a comfortable environment and that he should help others whenever he can.”

That desire is a driving force in Akhil’s life and plans for the future.

For instance, during the pandemic, Akhil spent four hours a day for two weeks teaching a class on the basics of coding, or computer programming, to a group of children ages 4 to 8.

“It was fun and a challenge,” he said. “Four-year-olds aren’t easy to work with.”

For the last year and a half, he’s been providing free tutoring once a week to a student who is challenged in math and hasn’t had his opportunities.

Akhil is in many clubs at school, even one he created as a ninth grader on financial literacy.

People were struggling in the pandemic, and he thought other students might benefit from a primer on topics such as interest rates, mortgages and taxes.

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

“I’ve put a lot of effort into understanding economics,” he said. “I’m not saying I fully understand it, but I think I have a pretty good grasp.”

The club has not grown from its original 15 members, and Akhil says he’s come to understand that most students want to join a club for enjoyment.

This summer, Akhil has worked weekends at a sandwich shop and interned on weekdays at a doctor’s office.

Learning how to take patients’ blood pressure, weight and other vital signs is part of his long-range goals of attending Duke University and one day being a cardiologist.

“A lot of people in my family and in my ethnicity (Indians from Southeast Asia) struggle with heart disease,” said Akhil, who was born in California and moved to Georgia before he was 2. “And I want to give back to the community that raised me.”


MORE DETAILS

To learn more about Akhil’s commitment to helping children in foster care and donate to his buddy package program: buddypackages.wixsite.com