Naperville teens’ unparalleled charity

Nandini Arakoni and Sanjana Gangadharan
Nandini Arakoni and Sanjana Gangadharan

Dave Vasudevan
CHICAGO: Two Naperville teenagers are doing an admirable feat beyond their age, helping children around the world who are affected by clefts lips and cleft palates. A large majority – 93% of these children – who do not receive surgery, will die before their 20th birthday. None of these kids should be forced to suffer when there is a simple solution that costs only $250.

Nandini Arakoni, a junior at Metea Valley High School and Sanjana Gangadharan, a junior at Neuqua Valley High School, started creating charm bracelets to raise money for their charity ‘Side By Side Smiles’ that began on January 6, 2017. ‘Side by Side Smiles’ has dedicated to help sponsor cleft surgeries for children who cannot afford them. They started creating bracelets meticulously made by hand, and each charm has a special meaning. Sale proceeds from their hard work go to the donation kitty.

“Each bracelet has a heart that says made with love to symbolize love,” Gangadharan said. “There’s also a key which shows everyone holds the key to a child’s happiness. Then there is a feathered arrow which shows how it’s easy to make a change since feathers are light. And the chain symbolizes unity because of the links.”

“I was born with a cleft lip, and I was born here, so I was fortunate. I got it fixed at a young age so I’ve grown up with a normal life and I’ve always wanted to do something to give back,” Arakoni said.

She came up with the idea for the charity as a way to help others like herself. They have helped over 80 patients so far.  “Sometimes it gets hectic running an organization and going to school full-time, but to do both, we make sure to time manage. We split up all the tasks we have to get done and divide them up between ourselves. Sometimes, if one of us is busier than the other, we work together to help each other out, so everything gets done on time. We also tend to get a lot of our tasks done on the weekend because that is when we are least busy with school”, said Arakoni, in a talk to this paper.

Gangadharan quipped in saying “ right now we are also working on organizing a toy drive for differently-abled children. Their organization has raised $25,000 so far with a goal of donating a total of $100,000 to ‘Smile Train’, an international children’s charity that provides free cleft repair surgeries. “ “One thing that we want to say is that through our organization we have learned the real importance of kindness. Kind acts are what keep the world going, and they don’t have to be as big as starting a nonprofit or donating $1,000. It can be as simple as smiling at someone or giving somebody a compliment because you never know what hardships other people are going through in their own lives and your small act of kindness could make their day. Anyone can be kind. It doesn’t matter how old you are or where you live, every single one of us holds the key to kindness and at the end of the day that is the message we are trying to spread” Gangadharan added.

“I kind of started thinking that not everybody in other countries has the opportunities that I do. I wanted to do something, so I found our charity that we donate to, ‘Smile Train’,” Arakoni said.

Visit them online at to extend support