WASHINGTON — “Disconnected” is how brothers Josh and Jonny Zients described feeling when they returned home after volunteering at an AIDS orphanage and children’s home near their mother’s hometown of Cape Town, South Africa.
“We kind of fell out of sync with that day-to-day involvement and were a little uncomfortable with that,” said Josh, 18.
So the two Northwest D.C. high school students took to their phones to stay in touch, and developed an app that helps them support the organization they worked with and others like it.
“We just saw within our peers, a lot of people have passion and desire to help out other people or contribute to causes that are addressing a lot of important social issues, and they talk about the social issues a lot, but there’s not a clear link to action. We wanted to try to be that link to action,” said Jonny, 17.
Now, almost a year old, Connect & Care links more than 450 users to global nonprofits in the fields of education, conflict relief, human rights and health care, to name a few. To date, it has raised more than $20,000 for its 20 partner organizations scattered throughout Africa, the Middle East, the U.S., and Central and South America.
The app is free to download. Once registered, users can read about the issues each organization works to address and the projects they implement. All of the money donated on Connect & Care goes directly to the selected nonprofit.
“We’ve been able to remain operational and grow while not taking any percentage of the donations,” said Josh, who added that Connect & Care relies on grants and direct contributions.
Connect & Care is a true family operation. Jonny and Josh’s older brother, Matt, is a co-founder; their older sister, Sasha, runs communications. Three others — including a developer, a graphic designer and a marketing and strategy lead — round out the team.
The brothers said the goal now is to continue to grow the app by adding more nonprofits tackling a range of issues. They’re also focused on adapting the app to its growing user base.
“We just want to be whatever platform is best suited to our generation and young people when it comes to engaging with nonprofits through their phone,” Jonny said.
And they’re doing it all while balancing a rigorous high school curriculum, after school activities and teenage social lives.
“For me, at least, it’s been nice to be able to apply the stuff that I’m learning in the classroom to things where I can see the effect and I can see the connection with something that feels real-world,” Jonny said.
“Doing the work has been easier to juggle because it’s been rewarding, and it’s also been cool to get other people our age involved in it.”