A 17-year-old senior at Illinois Math and Science Academy has turned her passion for art into a project that serves young hospital patients in Chicagoland and other parts of the U.S.
As a child, Sridevi Krothapalli loved to paint with watercolors. Her interests grew to include digital art and drawing. And in 2020, she harnessed that love for art to create Kahani, a student-led nonprofit that distributes a digital arts and literary magazine to children’s hospitals for kindergarten to middle-school-age patients. Kahani means storytelling in Hindi.
“My mission with Kahani includes helping distribute art and literary magazines for kids in hospitals across the USA to inspire creativity,” said the Plainfield teen, who aspires to a career in health care and advocacy. “It has always been my dream to positively give back to my community, help make an impact.”
Krothapalli said Kahani has been distributed online to young patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, and Children’s of Mississippi in Jackson. Staff and parents allow patients to read the magazine on tablets, digital devices and via in-house, closed-circuit televisions and websites. Kahani’s impact at Riley Hospital for Children was recently featured on an Indiana CBS affiliate station, where a hospital representative said the magazine is “a beautiful example … of children being supported by people who don’t even know them.”
“Having a variety of artistic and literary material for patients and families creates an opportunity for normalization in the hospital,” said Ann Hannan, director of the Riley Cheer Guild and Creative Arts Therapies.
Krothapalli is trying to get Kahani to other facilities across the country. Her drive to make an impact led to her being named to Teen Vogue’s annual 21 Under 21 list of change-makers, influencers, activists and artists in December.
Kahani, a twice yearly publication, consists of about 20 pages of various kinds of art — poetry, short stories, paintings and photography. Captions run alongside the artwork and there are journaling questions in each issue so readers and Kahani staff can get to know each other, Krothapalli said.
“We try to make it as artistically compelling as possible — the most fun things that we can think of and mostly interesting things that you’d see in a nature book. But instead, it’s made by students not so far away,” she said. “There were people in my family and community that were sick and going to nearby children’s hospitals for illnesses that they had and that inspired me to create some sort of creative arts therapy mechanism and a project for them to use. There aren’t many things made by students for this hospital population, kind of a students-for-students thing, all donated work that is made by students themselves.”
A member of IMSA’s arts and literary magazine, Heliotrope, Krothapalli produces Kahani with the help of half a dozen people that include her family, friends and IMSA students. As Kahani’s founder and creator, Krothapalli oversees outreach and promotion and serves as designer, artist and writer. She spends most of her school breaks working on Kahani. She said she wants to enable patients to contribute in future editions.
“I have to make it something that includes a much larger staff, from high schools all across the nation,” Krothapalli said. The more expansive Kahani becomes, she said, the more youth are exposed to art in an environment where art therapy can help.
“Sridevi is always the first to help another student,” said Joyce Symoniak, IMSA’s visual arts teacher and Kahani’s adviser. “While many do have great thoughts and ideas, their ideas are not always put into action. That is not the case with Sridevi. She puts her ideas into action and always in a positive manner.”
What was formed to spread happiness during the pandemic is now something Krothapalli plans to work on for as long as possible.
When not studying neural network algorithms to estimate the number of Earth-sized habitable exoplanets in our galaxy, Krothapalli enjoys filmmaking and playing tennis. She also serves as Illinois’ regional board president for the nonprofit International Youth Tobacco Control and helps organize educational activities, reaches out to other Illinois tobacco control organizations, and makes infographics and digital posters about tobacco use for state school districts.
“Everything that I do falls under the umbrella of what I’m really interested in — the umbrella of public health crises that affect kids’ well-being,” Krothapalli said.
She said she plans to do her best to protect children’s well-being when she starts a career in psychiatry. She said in Teen Vogue that, for her, “kindness and love have been a guiding force to speak what comes to heart and incite positive change.”
“No matter how small or big you see things out there being, as long as you’re motivated to do the things that you’re passionate about and stay true to yourself, that’s what matters,” Krothapalli said. “It’s all about exploring your interests no matter how wild they might seem.”