Hannah Sahota is a senior at Turlock High School, and while she has a lot on her plate as she continues to navigate her final year as a Bulldog, she has gone out of her way to make positive impacts in the community through her new charity initiative, Hannah’s Project.
Hannah’s Project is described as a charitable organization dedicated to promoting literacy, education and empowerment to disadvantaged groups and youth in the Turlock area. Sahota explained that the creation of the imitative stemmed from her own experiences volunteering as a tutor alongside one of her mentors, Dr. Viji Sundar. Sundar was a professor of mathematics at Stanislaus State, and during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, founded the Sundar Steam Academy, an online program that allowed children to log on and receive virtual tutoring.
“We would tutor kids and make them feel more welcome,” Sahota said. “Many of them did not speak English or had disabilities of some sort. Through these programs, it really opened my eyes to the different aspects that exist in Stanislaus County… There’s a lot of disadvantaged communities, with lots of undereducation and differences in privilege.”
Sahota tutored for the program for nearly two years before Sundar passed away after a battle with cancer, a moment that proved to be a turning point for her.
“Once she passed, all of these programs were stopped. There were no more resources or opportunities for these kids to get the extra education and interaction they needed, especially with younger kids. That’s when I decided I wanted to help,” Sahota said.
Sahota officially launched Hannah’s Project in late 2021 with a mission to uplift her community and provide similar services as Sundar’s academy to disadvantaged children. She aims to accomplish that goal through partnering with local non-profit organizations.
One of the first actions that Hannah’s Project took was to partner with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), which is a non-profit organization that advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education and research. The organization offers a “Tech Trek” program that exposes young girls to different STEM subjects, such as engineering, coding and data analysis, by taking them to a weeklong camp.
“I myself am an alumnus of Tech Trek,” Sahota said. “It gives these young girls who may not have the opportunity or encouragement to pursue careers in STEM. We sponsor one girl every year to participate in this program and experience new things.”
Sahota explained that the program helped her in countless ways, as she continues to be involved in STEM-related courses and activities while at THS. She is currently the president of the THS Science Olympiad and Match Club, a National Merit candidate and an AP scholar, who has achieved a GPA of 4.8 thus far in her high school career.
After high school, Sahota shared that she plans on working towards becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist. With her strong interest in the medical field and health care, she came across another unique local program that she felt deserved the support of Hannah’s Project, Dignity Health’s Merced Mercy Medical Center’s Birthday Cakes for Babies.
In May, the staff at Mercy Medical Center’s Family Birth Center began the Birthday Cakes for Babies program to celebrate births. The birth center welcomes over 3,000 babies a year, and families can celebrate the memorable occasion with a special treat as each family receives two decadent cupcakes from the local hot spot Mix Bakery. While the program has become a hit, it needed an extra boost at the time of its launch.
“They had started a new program called Birthday Cakes for Babies and I noticed that nobody had donated yet,” Sahota said. “I took a look at it and realized that it’s a really great program. It’s dedicated to make the labor process and hospital experience more welcoming and comfortable for all classes of women. We were one of the first to invest in this program and it’s been amazing so far. There’s a great disparity with reproductive rights.”
Hannah’s Project was able to raise $400 to the Birthday Cakes for Babies program, presenting the funds to the hospital on Aug. 12. Sahota added that more projects with Dignity Health are in the works, such as an initiative to donate books to rural clinics.
Sahota explained that most of the funds that have been donated to the local projects thus far have come from a combination of her tutoring work, birthday money, her savings account and from her recently awarded Leadership Academy Scholarship from the Stanislaus County Office of Education. She hopes to have an official website launched within the next couple of weeks so that online fundraisers can be set up and community donations to the project can be made possible.
“I really hope to bring awareness to some of the issues that surround us and to inspire others to make change,” Sahota said. ““No matter your age, you have the experience and resources to make a difference.”