There’s an App for That: Inspired Teen Creates Service Opportunities for Arizona Youth

Daily Point of Light # 7615 Aug 10, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Anmol “Molly” Budhiraja. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

Molly Budhiraja was just 16 years old when she coded an app that connects youth with local volunteer opportunities. She’d been doing it offline for a few years at that point, but during the pandemic, she did more than her classwork online. She learned to code.

The platform, named My Wish for My Community, promotes roles offered by local organizations as well as Molly herself — school supply drives, street cleanups, citrus picking for food banks, cardmaking for active military and senior homes, and more. Collectively, volunteers using her platform provided 800 service hours in 2022 and have reached the 1500-hour mark so far this year.

Now a senior in high school, Molly is applying for colleges with her sights set on heading to Washington, D.C. to study public policy and do hands-on work in the nation’s capital. In fact, one of her pieces of artwork has proceeded her to the city, submitted to the Congressional Art Competition and featured in Congresswoman Debbie Lesko’s office in the Capitol building. Using both her STEM skills and artistic talent, Molly has amplified her service impact and brought others along for the ride.

What inspires you to volunteer?  

My grandpa spent a lot of time with me while my parents were working when I was a kid, and he’s always talked to me about the importance of giving back, giving other people a voice and just being a kind person.  

For my sixth-grade birthday party, I asked for people to donate to a charity instead of getting me a gift. I realized that that’s a lot more fulfilling than just opening up a toy that would probably be lost in two weeks. Plus, I didn’t contribute to the plastic waste problem, something I tried to address with another app, Project Toy Exchange, that allows parents to exchange toys rather than buying new ones. 

Molly Budhiraja, founder of My Wish for My Community, built an app to connect volunteers with service opportunities in their communities./Courtesy Molly Budhiraja

During my freshman year of high school, I noticed a lot of homelessness. It was wintertime, and it worried me. I called my neighbors and friends, and with my family’s support, I was able to collect 22 large moving boxes worth of warm clothes and blankets. That was the first drive I held, and I was able to also create 200 hygiene kits from personal savings and birthday money. When I delivered them, I saw how much I could impact someone’s life. It opened my eyes to how much the world needs people to give a helping hand. 

How did you learn to code? 

During online school, I had a lot of downtime, so I started watching YouTube tutorials. I used a lot of different forums and just taught myself. I wouldn’t call myself a software engineer, but I definitely learned the basics and enough to develop the framework of my app and some cool features. I’m still learning.  

Describe your volunteer role with My Wish for my Community. 

We currently have five wish ambassadors in various areas of Arizona who expand the organization to their respective areas and inspire kids around them. They also recruit members and show them the opportunities we can provide. We have interest from someone in Texas looking to start a chapter, so we’re slowly expanding nationally. 

As the founder and CEO, I host monthly Zoom meetings with them and connect with organizations in my local area to organize new opportunities which I put on our website. I network, outreach, oversee the board of ambassadors and generally make sure everything is running smoothly. I also communicate with our website developer. Our organization has grown so much that even though I initially created the app, I cannot handle it on my own now. I just oversee everything and report to our board of directors, adults who oversee what all the kids do. 

How many people use your app right now?  

My first volunteer was my little sister. She was five years old at the time. Now, she is almost nine, and we have 80 regular users and many who come and go.  

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?  

Talking with volunteers after their experiences. Most kids come in looking for opportunities because of school requirements, but they have a good time. Community service isn’t just about service. I found my own community in service, and that’s what I see them doing. They’re forming connections with those around them.  

Sometimes, volunteers come with their families, and I see families getting closer. I think that’s what it’s all about, especially in the age of technology. It’s so easy for teenagers to get wrapped up in their phones. I’m guilty of this too, but when we go out there and serve together, we find our own community purpose and fulfill the wishes of many. 

Molly [blue], Wish Ambassador and Molly’s little sister, Aryan [animal print] and Suhana visit active military as part of the Cards for Troops campaign./Courtesy Molly Budhiraja

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?  

It’s so important to use your voice and take initiative. That is the whole reason I created this platform. I felt that there was no space for me to do so as an 11- or 12-year-old who wanted to volunteer. Anyone who wants to make a change or start something new should take that leap no matter how scared they are or how unachievable it may seem. Take small steps, and you’ll be on your way. 

Are there any future partnerships, programs, or events that you are excited about? 

Currently, we’re partnering with the Gary Sinise Foundation to create gratitude letters for veterans from World War Two. We offer remote and in-person opportunities, because we don’t want geographical locations to be a barrier. We went volunteering to be equitable.  

We also host monthly in-person music performances for dementia care patients, and we have one coming up next month with new performers. Additionally, I’m excited about our project to combat senior loneliness known as the Heritage of My Legacy Project. A young volunteer gets together with a senior from a group home and asks them to share a story they want the rest of the world to know. We’re compiling these stories and will publish them in a book so they can live on forever. It’s a multi-generational project.  

Why is it important for others to get involved in causes they care about?  

There are many kids my age who have a general apathy towards volunteering, because they just haven’t seen firsthand what they have to offer and how they can make a difference. Once people understand and get involved, they see that what they’re doing truly matters. Even the smallest donation of time can put a smile on someone’s face. 

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

Number one, don’t be scared to take that leap and do something. When I first started, I had no idea how to code. All I knew is that I wanted to give people my age a platform to get involved. And number two, people are always watching. I did the that first blanket drive because it worried me that people were out in the cold. After I donated everything and was on local news, it was a domino effect, a chain of positivity; people followed. Take that leap. You can inspire people. 

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Molly? Find local volunteer opportunities. 

Kristin Park