SPERO, a south Bay Area-based nonprofit started by three high school students, organizes activities, such as arts and crafts, gardening and book club, for its participating senior members. (Photos courtesy of SPERO)

Lynbrook high schoolers Shailesh Senthil Kumar, Krishna Ajjarapu and Aryan Dwivedi were dogged by a question that challenged the popular portrayal of teenagers as blinkered and self-involved. 

“How can I help my community?” they wanted to know. “Where to begin?”

To answer those questions, they looked beyond teenage concerns (and, truly, there’s no shortage of those), to focus on the struggles of another generation prone to loneliness and alienation: senior citizens. 

“We interacted a lot with our grandparents, so as a starting point we thought we could work with senior centers,” Senthil Kumar recalled. “A lot of the seniors that we saw were disconnected from the community.”

And so SPERO was born in 2018, spearheaded by Senthil Kumar as the founder and CEO and Ajjarapu as chief human resources officer (Dwivedi has since moved on) of the incorporated nonprofit, dedicated to “allowing seniors to contribute and connect with society.”

Derrick Cai was elected as the new president of SPERO, and Michael Ma was designated director of communications. The name “SPERO” was drawn from an ancient Latin phrase, “Dum spiro spero,” meaning, “While I breathe, I hope.” SPERO therefore denotes hope, Cai explained. It’s a beautiful testament to the organization’s mission. 

Before COVID-19 complicated matters, SPERO members engaged in arts and crafts, gardening and book club meetings with senior citizens. Crosswords were played with dementia patients using iN2L interactive technology. Occasionally, SPERO took seniors on exciting excursions, like Santa Clara’s Cherry Blossom Festival. 

Prior to the pandemic, high school volunteers would meet in person with SPERO participants and lead various activities like origami. The SPERO team has since implemented COVID-friendly activities into its programming.

“Since the pandemic started, we have two new projects that are more remote,” Senthil Kumar said. 

The first is the implementation of pen pal partners, assigned to establish communication between students and seniors at local senior centers. The second is called Project Pedal, designed to encourage outdoor activities. SPERO has contacted several local businesses and individuals who have agreed to pledge a self-designated amount of money for each mile personally biked or run. All pledge money then goes towards stationary bikes for senior citizens within the SPERO program. As the pandemic rages on, these machines have proven to be a crucial asset for stir-crazy seniors. 

SPERO members and their services were initially introduced to the Sunnyvale Senior Center and the Sunny View Retirement Community in Cupertino, but they’d like to expand their outreach. Several members have close friends in Arizona, who have since been recruited to join their cause. SPERO aims to encourage further expansion through the development of virtual events and activities. Early ideas include an online cookout, a virtual book club and the establishment of a virtual pen pal network.  

“We’re trying to bridge the gap between generations, and reach out to seniors who are disconnected from the community,” Senthil Kumar noted. “The pandemic has exacerbated this disconnect. We want to connect them to the community.”

SPERO is a celebration of intergenerational connection, and the high schoolers behind SPERO’s mission are nothing short of inspiring.

 “It’s a really cool experience to have as a high schooler, to interact with different generations,” Cai stated with a smile. “We have 30 to 40 members, and we hope to grow.”

Interested in volunteering with SPERO? Contact SPERO here.