Partner Spotlight: Blissful Us

When did your organization launch and why?

Founder and CEO of Blissful Us, Anusha Bansal.

I have been volunteering since 2010 and have provided food and clothing to aid domestic and international natural disasters. I have led several food drives and fundraisers for underprivileged communities working with organizations such as the Covenant House and United Way.

I founded Blissful Us, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, in 2018 with a mission to fight hunger, social inequality and education gaps in our communities. I serve on the Teen Leadership Council at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, where Blissful Us has engaged in many projects to serve in various capacities, including donating more than 50 thousand pounds of shoes and clothing, and over 10 thousand warm meals to the food bank patrons.

During my volunteer journey, I learned that poverty and education are highly correlated. Our society’s youth, especially in the underserved communities in urban centers, low income and first-generation immigrant families are at the risk of losing touch with STEM, literary and artistic skills.

Anusha Bansal, front center, volunteers with peers for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.

In order to fight hunger, we have to fight poverty and in order to fight poverty, I want to bring awareness to provide more opportunities for education to these communities so they can pursue career opportunities that otherwise would have been hard to achieve. Over the years, I have expanded Blissful Us to include more initiatives that have reached about 50 thousand students worldwide.

What does your organization do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

Blissful Us has two primary initiatives: The Blissful Pursuit, an online youth literary & arts magazine and Blissful Coding Club.

1. Blissful Coding Club’s mission is to promote STEM and coding education in students of all ages from lower-income and inner-city communities across the US and internationally. Blissful Coding Club is an online education platform for students in grades 2-12 that enhances their understanding of coding and STEM in a hands-on environment. K-12 students are mentored and taught by college students of technology and Computer Sciences from leading universities in the U.S.

High schools students in Blissful Coding Club learn virtually about nested conditionals in Python.

Via this digital educational program that is based on a peer-to-peer model of operation and organization, we aim to provide an opportunity for the youth of underserved communities across America and across the world to get motivated in the STEM field. This approach provides them an early head start to learn to code, develop an interest in STEM, potentially pursue STEM education in college and even pursue careers in STEM.

2. Blissful Pursuit Online Journal’s main goal is to develop a peer-to-peer, student-managed digital literary and arts magazine for the younger generation of underserved communities across America. It allows students to creatively express views and analysis via literary and visual art forms on topics related to diversity & culture, history, socio-economics and our planet. Through this magazine, we promote literary and humanities education in students of all ages from lower-income and inner-city communities across NJ.

Through the means of poetry, creative writing, and visual arts, the youth will co-create content and learn from each others’ perspectives to establish a better awareness and understand diversity and issues that surround us in today’s environment. This magazine is a student-driven endeavor to give them a voice to express their creativity and analysis on topics that matter to them. Students are free to submit their literary work without an expectation of award-ready work.

What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

What makes us unique is that we are a 100% student-driven organization with leadership and volunteers all being students from middle school, high school and college students from all across America. Since we are a student-run and organized nonprofit, we are keenly aware of what drives and motivates young students from various backgrounds.

Blissful Us staff photo
Blissful Us staff meeting.

Through the Blissful Us Foundation, we sponsor creative writing students for Summer Intensive Writing programs for The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers in part for excellence in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards!

Our virtual coding lessons were the first of their kind to be held at Newark Public Library, with lessons in a co-educational setting, led by a peer-to-peer training model, providing age-appropriate classes for students from grades 2 to 12. Our program curriculum is created using Carnegie Mellon University’s CS Academy, Code.Org, MIT Scratch, Creative Computing Guide from Harvard, and other well-known open sources. Classes are highly engaging with a 1:5 instructor to student ratio, while providing a lot of volunteer support to students. Extra help sessions encourage information retainment as well as concept reinforcement.

Our coding lessons came as a relief to many parents during the pandemic, and as the perfect opportunity for their children to learn to code while using their summers productively. Today, we have reached more than 25 thousand students from over 30 states in the U.S. and 7 countries.

What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

– Blissful Foundation has proudly sponsored multiple needs-based students from the Alliance of Writers & Artists to attend prestigious summer programs and enhance their art and writing journey.
– Blissful Coding Club has been invited to the Educational Summit as guests to give exposure to military families about our initiatives.
– We are also being hired as a vendor by urban libraries for a small stipend to bring our engaging coding lessons to their patrons.
– We recently added Personal Finance Course to our profile to further educate our students on the fundamentals of how to manage money to keep the financial gap at bay. If a child knows the value of money and how to create dividends from what they hold, they can get far ahead in life and succeed.
– We promote the education of cryptography, cybersecurity and add development to gain digital awareness.
– We performed a pilot in India in 5 elementary schools, where we taught our coding curriculum to 15 teachers, hence providing access to 2,000 local village students to our STEM classes.

What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Through Blissful Pursuit magazine, writers and readers gain more experience with reading and media literacy by writing and reading other people’s work. They take in even more information from a large number of sources through the Blissful Coding Club, in which students learn all types of inner workings of social media today. For example, they learn cryptography and cybersecurity and gain media literacy skills in the digital age. Through both of these programs, they develop logical skills and learn more about being a consumer and understanding the role of media in our culture.

Why is media literacy important to your organization?

The issue of the gap in media literacy skills dwells on more than simply computer science education. Our society’s youth, especially in the underserved communities in urban centers, low income and first-generation immigrant families, are at risk of losing touch with literary and art skills. They also may not have a readily available mechanism to express their views in a creative form without being judged or without having expectations for their humanities work to be of a certain award-worthy level as established by other organizations.

At the same time, the growing income divide in America risks younger generations losing further awareness of others around us facing challenges such as poverty, hunger, cultural barriers, diversity, languages and environment. With this project, we hope to achieve two major objectives: first, to engage kids in underserved communities across America to participate in creative writing and arts; second, to engage youth in underserved communities across America, we hope to give them a voice and platform where they can share their perspectives with the broader population. We want the youth in America to engage in constructive analysis of these issues in their own voice and thoughts, expressed creatively.

Anything else you want our readers to know about your organization, your mission, or your staff?

Blissful Us’s mission is to create a legacy in the no-cost, virtual STEM and Literary Arts space. No voice is any less than the other and no child should be disadvantaged due to lack of resources. We want to reach thousands of students, teachers, and other organizations to make an impact and see an economic gain in every child’s future. None of this is possible without the team we’ve invested in over the last year and a half.

Our staff is absolutely passionate and committed to our mission of teaching media literacy. Some of them felt the pain of not having a quality computer science education or not having a judgment-free platform to raise their voice themselves when they were kids. Now, they go out of their way to find answers to questions and keep the organization in a good place. A non-revenue generating nonprofit’s main support pillars are its voluntary staff, and I am very thankful to have the team stand by me.

Blissful Us leadership team goes out of their way to make sure classes run smoothly. They recruit Blissful volunteers from universities all over the U.S. to create diversity in their staff and to develop leadership skills amongst every team. We have provided meaningful employment to many work-study students at universities during Covid and will continue to do so in the future.

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.