“We’re giving back to the community that gave so much to us,” Hurshneet said in a recent Zoom interview. “If we were in the patients’ shoes, we would want someone to make a card and make us feel motivated to keep going in life. There’s going to be a positive light at the end of the tunnel.”
The brothers’ cards feature a wide variety of designs and inspirational quotes and phrases from historical figures, movies and songs, all designed to put a smile on the recipient’s face.
It ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. — Rocky Balboa
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Don’t worry, be happy. — Bobby McFerrin
“We want to give them positivity from the thoughts that we put into the cards,” Pravneet said.
Project Smile was inspired by a dinner-table conversation in the early stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic, when the brothers’ mom, Manpreet, an oncologist, and dad, Krishdeep, a gastroenterologist, described the loneliness they had witnessed among patients after health-care facilities implemented strict visitation policies to limit the spread of the disease.
“They were like, ‘Why don’t we make something to help cheer them up?'" Manpreet said. “They started writing cards.”
Project Smile’s first delivery in May was roughly 200 cards to Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. Around the same time, the Chadhas set up a P.O. Box where others who wanted to contribute to the cause could send homemade cards. Students in the brothers’ former Montessori teacher’s class were among the first to pitch in.
Hurshneet created a Facebook page and Instagram account to document Project Smile’s progress, engage with the community and inspire others to make a difference during the pandemic. He also built and maintains a website, which, in addition to making the operation “look more legitimate,” gives people without Facebook or Instagram a way to get involved. The site includes an FAQ section, including tips for what sorts of messages to include in the cards and steps, such as hand-washing, to ensure that any donated cards are safe.
“He’s the tech geek here,” Manpreet said.
The brothers make a good team. While Hurshneet has the technological know-how, Pravneet is a slightly better artist. He draws the family’s 1-year-old Goldendoodle, Angel, on some of his cards, with messages such as “Stay Pawsitive” and “Puppy Pawsitivity.”
“We rely on each other,” Pravneet said, putting his arm around his brother.
Some of the other common messages the brothers write on the front of their cards include “Think Like a Proton, Be Positive,” “Kick Covid-19” and “You Are One Tough Cookie.”
Hurshneet and Pravneet said they’ve made roughly 1,000 of the 1,300 cards that they’ve donated to the Navajo Nation and health-care facilities in the area, including a nonprofit called Circle the City that provides care for homeless coronavirus patients. Last weekend, the brothers held a Card-a-thon, cranking out 100 cards in two days to replenish the supply for their next drop-off. The feedback they’ve received via hospital officials from patients who have appreciated their cards has motivated them to do even more.
In recent weeks, the brothers started assembling dozens of Project Smile “Kits for Kids,” boxes with stickers, markers, crayons and other card-making materials, many of which have been donated by people who learned about Project Smile through social media.
“Every single one of our supporters matter to us,” Hurshneet said. “They make us feel like we are actually contributing during the covid-19 pandemic.”
The plan is to donate the card-making kits to the Child Crisis Arizona, which serves some of the most vulnerable children in the Phoenix community.
“The kids can have some entertainment and also feel happy, and we’re also getting cards to give to hospitals, so it’s a positive on both ends,” Pravneet said. “We want everyone to have an amazing day. We want to help and touch as many lives as possible. That’s our thing.”
Hurshneet, who recently started online classes for his sophomore year of high school, said Project Smile will continue for as long as needed.
“We don’t want to leave any patients out,” he said. “We don’t want to leave any patient behind. We want everyone to feel happy.”