To fight the spread of COVID-19, the White House Task Force on Coronavirus recently appealed to millennials to take the lead both in social distancing and in helping the elderly and others at high risk.
But would young people actually respond? The next morning I found this new posting on the listserv of my apartment building in Washington, DC:
Param Jaggi wrote: March 16, 2020
Hey Neighbors— I wanted to offer any fellow residents that are under the weather or elderly: I’m happy to go out to get you groceries, necessities, or medication over the next few weeks. I can get you what you need and just leave it outside your door. Here to help if you need it. You can call or text me @ (214) 280-[xxxx]. Or email me at [email protected]
Not to overstate things, but sometimes in the midst of a crisis you run into someone who boosts your faith in humanity. Before the morning was out, I’d contacted the resident who’d posted that message and—though we couldn’t meet because of social distancing—we chatted by phone.
I want to share his story with Rochester readers and have excerpted part of our conversation below. But first, some background.
Param Jaggi (it’s pronounced “parm,” he says, as in “chicken parm”), 25, is an inventor and entrepreneur.
At 13, what began as a science fair project, became his first invention: EcoTube, a device to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars using algae photosynthesis. He later obtained a patent.
You can see in a heavily-viewed, five-minute video sponsored by Nissan Motor how Jaggi developed his invention and also the roots of his entrepreneurial career.
Among many other national honors and recognitions, Jaggi was twice featured in Forbes “30 under 30.”
“I’ve always been involved in social enterprise and using technology for good,” he says.
Of Indian descent, Jaggi was born in South Carolina and raised in Dallas, Texas. For two years he attended Vanderbilt University but then dropped out and moved to D.C.
Since then, he’s founded and become CEO of Hatch Technologies, a 15-person company working to “democratize software development.”
“We build software without coding,” he explains. “It’s like WordPress but for apps.”
I must say a word about the building where Jaggi and I live.
In the heart of downtown, D.C.—a five-minute walk to the White House—most residents are millennials like Jaggi. There are also a few older folks (like me), some couples with young children, and a scattering of celebs: I’ve run into former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Obama political strategist David Axelrod; NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, and our own Senator, Chuck Schumer. It’s a place where people are largely focused on their work, not so much their neighbors.
One older resident, I’ve been told, died alone in his apartment and it took five days until anyone discovered the body. In short, it’s a nice, well-located building but there is little interaction among residents, especially between the generations.
That’s partly why Jaggi’s morning post caught my eye: not only was he responding to the national crisis, he was also bucking the trend of isolation among my immediate neighbors. I wanted to learn more about him and what had inspired him to reach out.
ROCHESTER BEACON: That was such a kind and thoughtful message you posted this morning.
JAGGI: Me and my girlfriend are both working from home and were thinking, what are some small things we can do to help right now. We’re hoping no one in the building gets sick but if anyone does, they should know there are neighbors here to help.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So, what prompted you to do it?
JAGGI: My parents grew up in India—they’re in their 50s–and one thing I learned from them is that you have your work and you should push yourself to do well, but you should also be looking out for others and for ways to help. That was ingrained in us from a young age.
Also, my girlfriend, Sofia, grew up in Madrid and has told me how they have a more communal style of living there compared to the U.S. where we seem to be more isolating.
I also believe that in society we’re often “Waiting for Superman”—waiting for this monumental thing to happen that will help everyone, but the truth is it’s usually just small things we each can do that go a long way toward helping others.
ROCHESTER BEACON: At the White House press conference yesterday, we saw Dr. Deborah Birx ask millennials to take the lead in fighting spread of coronavirus and also helping the elderly and others who are most at risk. Did you see that and was that part of your motivation?
JAGGI: Yes, I saw her and that was definitely a spark for thinking about how to help—I posted my notice right after her statement.
Our generation is unique: We’ve been a little sheltered. We never had a major war. We were a little too young when 911 happened. Even during the 2008 recession we were just teenagers. So this is the first time Millennials are in the thick of it. So I appreciate what [Dr. Birx] said and agree this is our time to step up.
I also think millennials get a bad rap for being the “social media generation” but, hey, it was on our building’s own social media site that I was able to post my notice, so all that can be used for good too.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you have other ideas about how people of your generation, even outside of Washington, can help those most susceptible to the virus?
JAGGI: Yeah, absolutely. People can reach out in their local communities using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can do geo-targeted posts asking if anyone in a specific area needs a helping hand, watching out for elderly folks and seeing if someone is sick.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Anything else you and your girlfriend are doing to help?
JAGGI: We’ve been practicing social distancing and pretty much quarantining in our apartment. We do leave to go to Whole Foods but when we do, we’re cognizant of what’s going on and pushing our friends to do the same. Last weekend we saw lots of young people at bars and restaurants and that made us both pretty mad.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What kind of reaction in the building have you received to the posting?
JAGGI: A couple people in the building contacted us and said they’d like to help out too. I told them if anyone elderly or sick or with children reaches out and needs help, I’ll let them know.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Sometimes these scary events can help bring people together.
JAGGI: That’s true. It’s a reflection on human nature but it’s pretty sad that it takes these kind of events to bring us together.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Too bad there’s not an app to help people do that under normal conditions.
JAGGI: Yeah, absolutely. The silver lining is that after this crisis is over, communities like our building may have more initiative to bring people together.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Param, when this is over, I look forward to meeting you in person.