By Kyros MoralesFor Mitzpeh@Mitzpeh

Elana Sichel and Hadassah Raskas discuss their pitch with a panel of Do Good Challenge judges. Photo courtesy of the Do Good Challenge website.

Elana Sichel, a senior management major, was chosen as a finalist in this university’s Do Good Challenge for her Corona Connects website.  

Over the summer, Sichel and her co-founder, Hadassah Raskas, a U-Penn alum, created the website Corona Connects. Their hope was that people, primarily college students, could use it to find volunteer opportunities in their area and help those affected by the pandemic, according to Sichel.

“We recruited a lot of different people who didn’t have internships over the summer, and we made a team of regional coordinators,” Sichel said. “The coordinators were made up of people in their respective networks, and others met on different Facebook groups.”  

The website started to gain traction after they built a system of regional coordinators across the country, who were tasked with researching different volunteering opportunities and spreading the word about this new platform. The site’s popularity continued to grow as the story was picked up by various media outlets, including Mitzpeh and Associated Press News, which Sichel stated was a big boost for the site.  

“We probably represented five states when we launched the site. Now we have over 15,” said Raskas in an AP News interview.

A spreadsheet of organizations and possible volunteers turned into a website that received 13,000 site visits and connected over 4,000 people with various volunteering opportunities.

As the fall semester approached, the duo started to slow down. The project was not something that Sichel and Raskas had originally planned to continue once she returned to campus in the fall.

However, once the semester started, Sichel connected with people who recommended that she submit her idea to the Do Good Challenge. After contacting the organizers, who appreciated her idea, she was given a mini grant and the duo continued their work.

The Do Good Challenge, which started in 2012, is an annual event run by the Do Good Institute of the School of Public Policy. The challenge looks to inspire students to take action and make a difference for the issues, communities and ideas they find important.

This year’s challenge was the ninth annual contest, excluding last year due to the pandemic. Finalists of the challenge have the chance to win up to $5,000.

The format of this year’s competition changed from being a single in-person two-hour event where both pitches and judging occur back-to-back, to one that takes advantage of the online environment.

Cali Moore, the program coordinator of the challenge, said that this year, the organizers wanted to make the process more interactive by having pitches be submitted earlier. They are posted online for anyone to watch on their own time and vote for their favorites, offering an audience choice award worth $2,500. 

“Being online, people have a little more time to interact. Also, beyond campus, it’s been really great for our finalists to show their friends and family the work they have been doing,” said Moore.

Sichel and Raskas are one of the six groups who have made it to the finals. They were chosen from a group of over 30 “high-quality” applicants, according to Moore. Moore was very impressed with the finalists this year, as they were able to adapt to the conditions under the pandemic and still produce exceptional work.

Sichel spoke on how amazed and proud she was with how much of a difference Corona Connects was able to make in such a short period of time.

“We were raised with this value of helping others and giving charity that was ingrained in me from the time I was a child,” stated Sichel. “Something good needed to come of Corona,” she added.

As for her experience with Do Good, Sichel appreciated the help she received and urges people to get involved and learn more about the institute.

“Do Good has been a really great starting point for us,” said Sichel.

In the awards premiere, which was live-streamed on Thursday, April 27, Corona Connects won third place, granting them $1,000. Sichel and Raskas received praise from friends, professors and even the director of the U.S. Education and Workforce Department at FHI 360, Michelle Gilliard. 

“We were impressed with how you took the pandemic and turned a difficult situation into a wonderful opportunity to bring about social change,” said Gilliard.

Sichel plans to put the money towards improving the website and possibly developing an app in hopes of forming a larger, more reliable platform for students to discover various organizations in need of volunteers.


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