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Round Rock ISD students launch nonprofit to support Central Texas refugees

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of Round Rock ISD students are embracing the giving spirit this holiday season, using their student-run nonprofit to benefit refugee and immigrant children resettling in Central Texas.

Nikhil Parida, Emaan Chhatriwala, Anagha Deepak and Nitya Parida founded HEARD Foundation last August, a nonprofit that supports displaced refugee children as they integrate into their new communities. The organization collaborates with other area nonprofits to raise funds that support refugees’ academic support, health services and any financial needs they might have.

“My sister and I first started tutoring refugee kids in our middle school days,” said Parida, a junior at Round Rock High School. “And it opened our eyes to some of the key challenges they face.”

Here in Central Texas, the Afghan crisis and war in Ukraine have each contributed to hundreds of refugee families resettling in the greater Austin area. Data from Refugee Services of Texas (RSTX) reported more than 1,000 Afghan refugees have resettled in Austin, while 150 Ukrainian refugees have relocated to the Texas capital as of late September.

Since its founding last summer, the HEARD Foundation has organized a dozen events, including bake sales with proceeds benefitting Ukraine, donation drives benefitting communities in India as well as drives to support the Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center. In 2022, the nonprofit has raised $1,400 through bake sale proceeds to support Ukrainian children.

“It’s amazing to see how the entire community can get together to result in something so beautiful,” said Deepak, a sophomore at Round Rock High School.

Alongside bake sales, the group has collected toys, clothing, books and other resources to benefit refugee children. Nonprofit partners include RSTX, Williamson County Children’s Advocacy Center, Families in Transition and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

While starting out as a mostly local organization, the group has ambitions to extend their services both nationally and globally. Chhatriwala, a junior at Round Rock High School, said the international work they’ve done on trips to India is inspiring them to think broader.

“We’re hoping that over time, this will become normal, and we can have a profound effect on children around the world.”

Emaan Chhatriwala, junior, Round Rock High School

“We’re hoping that over time, this will become normal, and we can have a profound effect on children around the world,” he said. “A smile is a smile, and a smile anywhere in the world — this is going to have an astounding impact on all of us.”

Both Walmart and Target has helped provide donations to the organization, and the nonprofit also runs an Amazon Smile account to collect donations to support their work. In the future, they hope to expand their services to add on hygiene drivers and more winter holiday drives to cover more terrain.

And while HEARD was founded by a group of high schoolers, the nonprofit has expanded its reach into RRISD elementary schools. Anirudh Deepak and Alina Chhatriwala, both 5th graders at Patsy Sommer Elementary, are leading the nonprofit’s next generation of advocacy work at their campus through bake sale drives.

“I help our team by letting my friends and teachers know about our programs and bringing in more people to help our cause,” Anirudh said, adding he was inspired by the work his sister, Anagha, was doing with the nonprofit. “I’m really happy to be a part of it.”

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