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Manāna is a non-profit organization that celebrates birthdays of children in need. (Photo from Manāna board)

In an effort to support underprivileged and sick children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Penn students are volunteering to host virtual celebrations and gifts for children across the nation with one mission in mind: 'bringing happiness to every child.'

A group of 30 students are working with Manāna, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization that works to create joyful celebrations for children in need. The organization opened its second branch in Philadelphia in 2018, four years after its first location was founded in Atlanta by rising College senior Saachi Datta, who currently serves as CEO and president of the organization. 

The word 'manāna' means "to celebrate" in Hindi. 

Despite Penn’s decision to close its campus in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Datta said she was determined to continue Manāna's mission. The organization shifted its focus toward creating a platform where it records 'Manāna Virtual Cards' through its Hope@Home initiative. 

The initiative, which is partnered with Penn Medicine, provides personalized video birthday cards and messages of hope to children of healthcare workers, who continue to grapple with the pandemic as they worry about the safety of their parents, The New York Times reported.

As healthcare workers across the world continue to risk their lives treating COVID-19 patients, their children have also been impacted as they worry about their parents' safety.

Families are able to fill out a form to request a virtual message for their child, which asks questions about the child's interests, such as a favorite sports team or movie series, that help volunteers personalize each card's message.

“I wanted to celebrate children’s lives; for them to remember joyful moments and have happy childhood memories to look back on even in situations beyond their control,” Datta said. 

Finger painting is one of the activities that volunteers would host with the birthday party celebrations (Photo from Manāna board) 

Rising College senior and Manāna board member Ella Roth said even though Manāna is operating virtually, she believes the organization is still impacting the lives of children in positive ways. 

"You just made my husband and I cry. Thank you so very much for making our daughter this incredibly special card," a parent testimonial on the Manāna website reads. 

Rising college senior and Manāna board member Sanaea Bhagwagar said she hopes to expand the team to include more video editors as well as volunteers to record the Hope@Hope messages. 

Manāna has reached over 300 children in Philadelphia and Atlanta over the past six years, including children at Philadelphia's Ronald McDonald House, Puentes de Salud ⁠— a South Philadelphia nonprofit that promotes the wellness of immigrant Latino populations ⁠— and West Philadelphia elementary schools.

In the fall, Manāna plans to expand to other cities, colleges, and high schools virtually and in person, once Datta said it is deemed to be safe amid coronavirus concerns. Datta also said the group plans to continue the Hope@Home initiative, add birthday cake deliveries from local Philadelphia bakeries, and broaden the message recipients to children of frontline workers.

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