Charlotte C. Vaziri (MSMS 2020) identified several ways to support her community during COVID-19 by transforming tech barriers into bridges.

Removing Barriers to Provide Support During COVID-19

By Charlotte C. Vaziri (MSMS 2020)

My grandfather was a professor of constitutional law for over 50 years. When he retired, my grandma passed the torch to me, begging that I attend law school so I could have a platform to help people. When I told her I got into Kellogg, instead of congratulations, she jokingly said, “Well, don’t go to the dark side. You can go to law school after.” I laughed it off, but I knew I wanted to prove her wrong. I wanted to show her how Kellogg provides the resources to materialize one’s desire to serve.

Fast-forward a few quarters and our country finds itself in the throws of COVID-19. I sat in my home feeling frustrated and useless. But then I realized, Kellogg had given me the ability to create several services to help others. Although I was confined to my home, all I had to do was look at my grandma and grandpa for inspiration.

Eliminating tech barriers to provide connection.

My grandma had started calling me more often because her retirement home kept the residents in their rooms. It occurred to me that with social distancing, there would be an influx of people feeling isolated and down. People yearn for human connection, and this is why my grandma kept calling. As a Kellogg student, I understand the benefits of connection and community through our collaborative environment. Conversations can elevate, move, and stimulate. I wanted to give my grandparents and others a platform to feel energized by being part of a community.

Being 92, my grandma only knew two phone numbers by heart and could barely operate her landline. And as a member of a younger generation, I have the privilege to be technologically literate enough to find connections through platforms such as Zoom. However, for older generations, or those who only have access to limited technology, they have a narrower avenue for human connection. It broke my heart thinking of my grandma sitting alone in her room, watching the phone, waiting for someone to call her. This generated a sense of guilt that I am sure many other families and friends are feeling right now. We are overwhelmed that we cannot give our loved ones what they need. Although there are support lines for these issues, they require volunteers, an ability to find the number, and most lines are at overcapacity.

To address this, I decided to code a calling database. The goal of this was to provide a way for people who felt isolated and restricted by technology to help others who felt the same way. When an individual calls the number, they are automatically directed to a server that links them with someone else who has called. It is free and can be accessed 24/7. It was my hope that the conversations would be fruitful, and this seems to be true. On average, my grandma’s calls last more than thirty minutes. I am currently in partnership with various retirement homes. Along with a straightforward implementation process, it plays to retirement home capabilities. The retirement home provides the residents with the number, and then they call in through their landline that is in each of their rooms. Eliminating the technological barriers to entry has helped remove barriers to connection.

Creating free websites for small businesses

My dad is a surgeon and recognized a need to curb patients coming into the hospital when the condition can be treated virtually. In-person visits can create more exposure and require hospital materials that are already scarce. Along with my father, I kept hearing stories of small businesses having to shutter the majority of their in-person services. A lot of these small businesses did not have a virtual presence to continue their operations online.

Therefore, I have been creating free websites for small businesses, so they can still provide services and have a stream of income. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy, and if I can help them make it through this, I want to. Because I develop websites for free, the catch is that it requires the company to offer payment flexibility to the customer. This format is to account for the financial hardships that people are facing. Although this may be a deterrent for businesses, it helps promote customer loyalty and gives the company partial revenue.

The multiplicative effect

Because my grandpa was a professor, I know the multiplicative effect he had on his students. Two quarters into my experience at Kellogg, I have received the same privilege. My professors give me the opportunity to be a conduit of their teachings. I am grateful that my education has given me the ability to create. So, to contradict my grandma, no, you do not need to go to law school to create change if you have Kellogg. Thank you, Kellogg, for giving me the means to help communities I care about. There is nothing more empowering. Also, do not hesitate to reach out if you know of anyone who could benefit from this call service or of a small business in need of a website.