The Jefferson Awards for Public Service looks for local unsung heroes who make the world a better place through volunteering and community service. Known as the “Nobel Prize for Public Service,” the awards recognize ordinary people who do extraordinary things. RTV6 presents the Jefferson Awards to local volunteers and paid professionals, who go well beyond their expected duties and positively impact our communities.
When you listen to Rahil Thanawala talk about his grandmother, you can tell just how much he loves her.
“It all starts at home because my grandmother, she’s been my biggest inspiration.”
The 17-year-old raises hundreds of dollars for Asian Fest each year, has reached Eagle rank in the Boy Scouts, and he’s secured a grant to build a toddler’s play area at the Fisher’s YMCA, but it’s his love for his grandmother that put him on a path that could change the world.
“She was starting to forget her family back in India, which was really touching because these were people I knew,” said Rahil. “I feared that one day she would maybe forget who I and her other very close family living in the states were.”
Rahil came up with a way to help his grandmother remember those she loved using pictures and magnets.
“We made personalized picture puzzle games, almost like flash cards, to help my grandmother and others remember their family members by playing flash cards.”
And he noticed it helped.
In 2014, when he was just 14 years old, Rahil founded his own non-profit called “Snap Link” to help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients using his flash-card picture-therapy idea.
Gary Krishnan, a senior research fellow at Lilly, worked with Rahil’s older brother in a university laboratory.
Now, he mentors Rahil.
“Rahil actually shares a personal situation with mine. My dad has dementia and Alzheimer's disease just like his grandmother does,” said Krishnan. “My dad is a patient, and we pressure tested his system, and it makes a huge difference when you measure how unique the approach is.”
Rahil also turned to the Alzheimer’s Association of Indiana and manned a booth at the IU Alzheimer’s Disease Caregiver Symposium to share his idea and the theory around “Snap Link.”
From those experiences, Rahil said he received tremendous feedback, encouragement, and suggestions on how to make his invention even more useful.
And now, Rahil’s picture board game is a functioning, effective smartphone app.
“The users can upload more than three pictures onto their device and it will generate a random puzzle with picture to picture, picture to text and fill in the blank difficulties and it will give you a time it took to complete the puzzle,” Rahil.
“It’s astounding to see someone so young be so committed to solving the problem,” said Krishnan.
Rahil’s technology hasn’t just helped his grandmother; it’s impacted more than 500 Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.
Rahil says he plans to take his “Snap Link” app to the next level and validate its effectiveness in assessing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
“I don’t really care to be remembered,” said Rahil. “I care that hopefully, one day, there is a drug for Alzheimer’s disease and that people are using therapy to help their loved ones remember who they loved the most.”
Do you know an unsung hero who’s making a difference in your community?