MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – Many of us found new ways to pass the time during lockdown in the first months of the pandemic. For one Madison teen, that was programming.
Now, James Clemens High School 11th grader Pranav Somu is putting the final touches on what he thought would be a lockdown project but turned into something much greater.
A year and a half after starting a completely new database application project, Somu is running the program’s final tests before gifting it to the North Alabama Foster Closet.
“I thought this was a great way to work on a real-world problem and give back to the community. At the same time, I felt that because of lockdown, it was the most direct and impactful way to help,” Somu said.
The Foster Closet is a nonprofit and did not have the extra cash to afford to buy any pre-existing programs that rivaled Somu’s creation. He said it was a no-brainer to take on the project after doing a bit of research about the foster care industry.
“At the time I really didn’t know much about foster care, why it’s important or how it even works,” he said. “This system that foster care runs in, it’s ridden with a lot of problems. For example, about half of new foster parents end up quitting in their first year, because of lack of supplies to support the children they take in.”
That’s where The Foster Closet steps in. They offer hundreds of items for kids of all ages to families across North Alabama.
“We currently have more than 350 families on our contact list. Some of those families we help once or twice a year. Some of them we help every four to six weeks,” NAFC Co-Founder Kimberly DuVall said.
They previously used paper filing. When the pandemic struck, volunteers had to transition to Google Forms and Google Sheets to keep track of inventory and requests from families.
“We’ve been using that for 22 months and it has become a very big document,” DuVall said.
The document system was also a tough one to navigate and ever-changing, as some families receive foster children on short notice and occasionally, they come to the family with only the clothes on their backs.
Somu took the needs of The Foster Closet and completely streamlined the process with his program, which will save countless time for both the volunteers and Closet clients. What he didn’t know, is how in-depth the program would get.
“It doesn’t sound too hard of a task to do, but as I went on, it turned into a very study-intensive and time-intensive task,” Somu said.
After more than 300 hours of labor and thousands of lines of code, Somu has almost completed the product.
News 19 asked why, after learning how complicated the process was, he continued on creating such an advanced system, even after the lockdown ended.
“[I’m] wanting a worthwhile reason for basically anything I do. My main passion lies in programming, and I really wanted to do something that would actually have a real-world benefit,” Somu said.
Those at The Foster Closet are grateful that he has committed to this degree.
“It’s phenomenal to me that someone so young understands foster care, understands the need for foster care, understands the need for support services for families and agencies. He has a huge heart and this program that he has developed, is going to help a lot of people,” DuVall said.
Somu said he noticed many foster aid organizations struggle with the same organizational issues and a lack of resources to afford a complex database system. One has already come forward requesting his help after learning about his program. He said he’s prepared to help them next.