As parents, we want our children to be upstanders, not bystanders, meaning that if they see a problem or an injustice, they should step in, get involved, and ask how they can help. In the case of Sahil Polepalle and Devraj Dhupar, both members of the Saddle River Day School class of 2025, they have learned that lesson well.
As 9th graders, Sahil and Devraj founded a chapter of the HELP (Health and Education for Less Privileged) Foundation at Saddle River Day School. Established in the mid-1990s by Sahil’s grandparents in response to the child poverty they witnessed on visits to India, HELP seeks to provide funds to change the cycle of poverty by supporting orphans, orphanages, and schools in India. In addition to opening at least seven orphanages, the HELP foundation provides aid to students and orphans that addresses their educational, healthcare, and day-to-day needs. The HELP Foundation is completely volunteer-run, meaning that 100% of funds raised go to the children in need.
Sahil and Devraj have embraced this mission, raising funds by offering tutoring to younger students, holding doughnut and chocolate sales, and making presentations at local Diwali celebrations. They have found that they are never the only ‘upstanders’ in the room. The SRDS community has shown up and shown out each time they have asked. Sahil and Devraj say they “seriously underestimated the number of doughnuts” needed for their sale – they sold out in a matter of minutes. Sahil and Devraj also credit Head of School, Jalaj Desai, and Dr. Zacaraev, the Upper School Head, for encouraging them to present to parents and their fellow students, and offering school resources when warranted. They attribute much of their success to the support they’ve received from the faculty and administration at Saddle River Day School.
This support is not something they take for granted. During their recent trip to India over Winter Break, 2022, Sahil and Devraj, saw the impact that caring, involved, compassionate adults have on the development of the children in their care. They were able to participate in the daily life of the students and children who have been directly affected by their fundraising efforts. They attended classes with the students and recognized that many of the routines and patterns students followed in India were surprisingly familiar and very similar to those of students at SRDS. There were still morning meetings, chemistry classes in labs that looked just like the ones at home, and sports. There were also motivated, curious students who were focused on their academic performance, knowing that their success in school would positively affect their future.
Many of the students Sahil and Devraj encountered were interested in careers in engineering or medicine, but students also learned vocational skills in order to support themselves as, among other things, electricians or mechanics. What they found is that much like Saddle River Day School alums, students who graduate from one of the HELP funded schools or programs often come back and “pay it forward.”
Back at home, Sahil and Devraj have plans for the future of the SRDS HELP chapter. In addition to their other commitments; Sahil is active in student government, plays on the golf team, and has also started a baking club. He was recently one of 3,797 individuals awarded a Silver Medal by the United States' Congressional Award, a nonprofit founded by Congress to recognize youths throughout the country for their achievements in four categories: 1) Voluntary Public Service 2) Personal Development 3) Physical Fitness and 4) Expedition & Exploration. Devraj is on Student Council, is president of the Astronomy Club, and plays both drums and varsity tennis. They would like to plan another chocolate or doughnut fundraiser. They will also host a walk-a-thon, asking for pledges for each lap walked.
They’re also trying to go back to India next year, hopefully with other members of SRDS HELP. And they’re committed to starting a HELP chapter wherever they end up after they graduate from SRDS. The most important thing they’ve learned from their work with HELP is gratitude for the many privileges they have in life, and the pleasure of giving from a place of abundance. Now they want to make sure their counterparts in India can also experience that security. Upstanding – and outstanding – indeed.