HILLSBOROUGH: Two teens turn international inspiration to local charity organization

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Aaron Phogat

By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
Ever since Shrey Deshmukh saw Aaron Phogat roller skating at a neighborhood park nearly eight years ago, the two Hillsborough youths have been friends. They share interests, have a common heritage and now, they can say their bond is working to bring assistance to those in need thanks to their budding non-profit charity work.
Since January 2015, Aaron, 13, and Shrey, 14, have been working on the Hillsborough New Jersey Student Chapter of People to People International (PTPI), which they personally run and operate to help the Hillsborough, Manville and Belle Mead communities.
“This is not for us,” Shrey said. “This is to help other people who do not have as much as we do. It’s to give back.”
PTPI is a not-for-profit organization that was created in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to “create lasting cross-cultural connections between everyday citizens around the world to help them explore global issues, serve and enrich their diverse communities, and become more effective leaders in creating a more peaceful world.”
For the teens, that ideal rang true after visiting family in India.
“I know it was my grandparents and my whole family (that inspired me),” said Aaron, who last visited India in August. “Every time I go to India, I see everyone in my family doing a lot of community service and helping out the community, so I decided that I wanted to start something like this in Hillsborough.”
Shrey, whose most recent trip to India was within the last couple of years, said his uncle’s medical background and work in India also compelled him to do community service at home.
“(My uncle) is really the person who inspired me to help the less fortunate have a better life,” Shrey said.
Since then, the boys have set up the Hillsborough chapter and already held a handful of events to benefit the Hillsborough Social Services Department and the State Health Insurance Program (SHIP), which is a Somerset County-based charitable organization. Some of their drives include a neighborhood food drive and a ping pong tournament/fundraiser.
The group has also made and donated decorative placemats for SHIP to help with their Christmas meals and donated about 200 utensil kits to the group to help with their outdoor summer meals.
In addition to their local work, Aaron traveled to India for three weeks to work with a local hospital. While there, he worked to spread awareness about communicable diseases to patients, as well as residents in nearby slums.
“Everybody in our community gives, because you know they’re going to help,” Shrey said. “It’s not like they’re going to say ‘no’ to help the needy.”
Currently, the group is planning its next drive, which will benefit the Cellphones for Soldiers, a charity that provides cell phones and calling cards to military personnel stationed overseas.
With an estimated start time for the drive tentatively set within the next two months, Shrey said the group is already looking to host a Super Bowl party, with an entry fee going to charity.
“We just want to give back as much as possible,” he said.
With each project, the teens said they have seen a steady influx of members. Since the group’s inception last year, the chapter’s membership has quadrupled from three in January 2015 to the current roster of 12 local youths.
Aaron attributes the influx of new members to the group’s positive experience and overall message.
“With each project, more kids join us because everyone gets a chance to understand what we are,” Aaron said. “These few kids are helping out people in our community and parents sometimes think to themselves that they want their kids to join in, too.”
Though the teens hope to see continued growth within the group, Aaron said they are taking it one step at a time.
“We just want to help as many people as we can and do as many good drives and donations,” Aaron said. “Our main goal is just to help people. There’s no goal that we’re just continuously working toward other than helping as many people as we can.”
For more information on the Hillsborough Chapter of PTPI, visit http://www.ptpihillsborough.org for more information on upcoming drives or how to join.