To continue building the legacy of Abhi Shah, a finance junior who passed away last November, a new club on campus has made helping kids in the Lansing area its mission.
The club, Smile 4 Kids MSU, started as a way to engage MSU students in local volunteering and as a way to carry on Shah's generous disposition.
“We wanted to give MSU students the opportunity to do something good in memory of Abhi around the Lansing area, so we created Smile 4 Kids MSU as a club to allow students to do that," President of Smile 4 Kids MSU and human biology senior Brandon Halmaghi said. "So our goal is to enrich the lives of children in any way possible. That’s pretty much how we started off.”
Following Shah's death, a candlelight vigil was held at The Rock in remembrance. An estimated 500 people showed up at The Rock and around 1,200 people attended his funeral, just one of the many testimonies that show the magnitude of how Shah affected those around him.
Almost a year after his death, a foundation in his name was created by his parents — The Abhi Shah Foundation — and the campus-based club Smile 4 Kids was created.
Within the first month of its establishment, Smile 4 Kids MSU already has 93 members and is growing every week, Brandon Halmaghi said.
“We had one Natural Science Building room and every single seat was filled," international relations senior and vice president Veer Shah said. "There were a couple people sitting on the same seats together.”
To work with kids in the community, Smile 4 Kids MSU partners with different organizations. The club's current partners are St. Vincent Catholic Charities and Sparrow Hospital, which are both based in Lansing.
“So we’re doing tutoring activities and we’re conducting different types of field activities and arts and crafts, just trying to work with the kids and just spend time with them and better their lives in whatever way we can," Jay Shah, a supply chain management junior who does public relations for the club, said.
One of the main visions of the club is to go beyond raising money for children in the area to instead develop personal relationships with these kids.
Following the club's recent field day event, Jay Shah said the kids engaged in the event kept asking when Smile 4 Kids MSU would come back.
“That’s kind of the biggest thing we wanted to stress — that this wasn’t a one time volunteer event and kind of, never show your face again, this is something we want to continue to do to show consistency with the children’s home," Jay Shah said.
Another one of the club's recent efforts was to create care boxes for the kids at Sparrow Hospital, Jessica Halmaghi, a premed sophomore who also works on public relations for the club, said. Jessica Halmaghi is also Brandon Halmaghi's sister.
"The way I looked at it when I was trying to think of something we could do for these patients was, like, this club and the foundation, personally — and I’m sure this goes for all of Abhi’s friends and family —it helped me heal a lot from Abhi passing away, and I think my idea for this was that these kids are kind of facing their own illnesses and there’s something we could do with this organization to help them heal too," Jessica Halmaghi said.
Jessica Halmaghi said Sparrow has a myriad of regulations and guidelines to meet when it comes to personally interacting with the kids. She said the goal is to get a group of people to go through the application process, background check and get the correct vaccines in order to engage with the kids personally.
Other projects in the works include tutoring children through a partnership with St. Vincent Catholic Charities and possibly partnering with an MSU sports team to raise funds for St. Vincent Catholic Charities.
The Abhi Shah Foundation was created by Shah's parents, but Brandon Halmaghi and Veer Shah hold the public relations chair for the foundation. The foundation's goal is similar to Smile 4 Kids MSU, but its impact is not focused on the Lansing area.
The foundation is partnered with the Methodist Children's Home Society in Redford, Michigan and Vista Maria in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
Through financial support from the foundation, the Methodist Children's Home Society will reopen a cottage to house 10 additional boys, all foster children who are survivors of child abuse or neglect.
Previous events held by the Abhi Shah Foundation, according to the foundation's website, include a walkathon, a comedy show and a basketball tournament.
One project Brandon Halmaghi and Veer Shah are working on is an event with the Detroit Pistons. On the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 20, for each ticket that is purchased using a special promo code, a portion of the proceeds will go to the foundation, Brandon Halmaghi said.
"It’s more of an event to spread awareness of our foundation," Brandon Halmaghi said.
Those who want to purchase one of these tickets should go to pistons.com/AbhiShah and buy a ticket using the promo code "AbhiShah," Brandon Halmaghi said.
For MSU students who are in Smile 4 Kids MSU or for those who are interested in joining, purchasing a ticket covers their membership fee, Veer Shah said.
At the heart of it all — the foundation, Smile 4 Kids MSU, the volunteering and community outreach — is Abhi Shah. Smile 4 Kids MSU hopes, in the end, to establish a sustainable club that will help keep Shah's generosity and goodwill going.
“Abhi was the type of person who never let you feel alone, so it was one of those things where these kids might not have a support system or feel like they have a support system, so we’re trying to be there the way Abhi was there for everyone else,” Jessica Halmaghi said.
The entire Smile 4 Kids MSU executive board is made up of people who have known Abhi Shah for a long time, Jay Shah said, so the board has a shared goal.
Veer Shah said one of the reasons why the club is so successful is because the hundreds of people who were affected by Abhi Shah during his life are coming out to do good in his name.
Keeping the organization local is another big draw to the club, Jay Shah said.
“There’s so much to the Lansing, Okemos and East Lansing area that I feel MSU students don’t really get a chance to reach out as much and see what’s going on in their community, where there is impact needed. And I think that was a big part of our plan, was to really reach out to the different communities," Jay Shah said. “There’s so many different communities that need help, and this is a really good chance for MSU students to branch out and to make an impact in their four years here.”
For MSU students who want to get involved, there are a few requirements, according to Brandon Halmaghi. There's a $20 yearly membership fee that goes toward volunteer events, a tshirt and food for meetings as well as a minimum attendance rate.
“You have to attend five club events per semester," Brandon Halmaghi said. "We’re going to be requiring that you attend one meeting, one fundraiser event and one volunteer event within that semester, and the last two, you can attend whatever event you’d like to attend."
For more information on how to get involved, students are urged to visit Smile 4 Kids MSU's website and connect to the club through social media.