Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Aanand Mehta of Magical Motors Is Helping To Change Our World
Networking is key. Networking with other like-minded organizations will allow you to establish positive relations within your specific field of interest. And if those connections do not come in hand, ask them for their connections who could help you to further your mission too! Through this process, Magical Motors is now in the midst of collaborating with ACCEL, Southwest Human Development, Arizona State University, Arizona SciTech Institute, and many more organizations!
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aanand Mehta.
Aanand is a 16-year-old junior at BASIS Phoenix in Phoenix, AZ. Exploring his love for music, he has been singing Indian classical music for the past 12 years, and has been playing the cello for the past 7 years. Aspiring to pursue a career in medicine, Aanand enjoys volunteering at therapy centers, hospitals, and public health and community outreach events. He has also conducted medical research at Arizona State University, Barrow Neurological Institute, and the University of Arizona School of Medicine — Tucson. One year ago, he co-founded his nonprofit organization, Magical Motors, as a way to help children with developmental disabilities gain the right to independent mobility.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Of course! Growing up, I was continually exposed to the passions that I continue to cultivate today. These passions were music and volunteering. I had my first Indian classical singing class when I was 4 years old, and my love for the ancient art form grew each time I practiced. Later, in 4th grade, I began playing the cello, and was also enamored by the art form; music became the medium through which I could freely express myself.
On the other hand, I have always accompanied my mom, a dentist, and my sister, to dental community outreach events, where I volunteer for the community that I love most, informing them about the benefits of and helping them maintain dental hygiene. I have found helping others to be one of the most fulfilling experiences I have felt, and enjoy volunteering at those events to this day.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Currently, in the United States, more than 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability, notably autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy. In terms of mobility, nearly 500,000 children suffer from mobility issues from birth, and that number is rapidly growing. However, pediatric power wheelchairs, sold by price-hiking companies, retail for tens of thousands of dollars and can take several years to receive, thus discouraging the child from seeking alternatives to overcome their disability.
Our organization, Magical Motors, empowers children with developmental disabilities and students to nurture a more inclusive and enriching community where every child has access to the right to mobility. We do so with a two-fold approach: first, using the GoBabyGo model, we open up a store-bought, ride-on and rewire the foot/accelerator pedal into a hand-controlled button; the button is eventually attached to the steering wheel. We also create back support and seat accommodations using accessible materials, including PVC pipes and kick-boards. Finally, we aesthetically customize the car towards the recipient’s liking, allowing for a sense of personalization that is not feasible with the car’s expensive counterpart. Second, by introducing our self-curated curriculum in schools, therapy clinics, medical centers, and STEM organizations across the country, builders are incentivized to form an interest in the STEM field by being introduced to soldering and drilling techniques. Car-building activities also allow them to become more compassionate and leader-like. We founded Magical Motors as a way to amalgamate innovation, compassion, and autonomy, and we are working toward accomplishing our goals in the near future.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Like I mentioned before, I enjoy volunteering at therapy centers. About 3 years ago, I began volunteering at the Neurologic Music Therapy Services of Arizona, where I was able to realize the interplay between two of my passions: music and volunteering. It was there that I found a passion for helping children with developmental disabilities. I noticed how kids were experiencing difficulty moving independently, and I sought to make a change for the better, to allow kids with developmental disabilities to gain a sense of freedom and expression.
On the other hand, Rohan is an Eagle Scout for the Boy Scouts of America. In 2018, he took on the initiative to modify several cars for children with developmental disabilities in association with the UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute and Assistology. Seeing the kids ride with joy, in addition to the fact that he could transform just a few hours and limited money into something that children with developmental disabilities could use, inspired Rohan to further this mission.
As I found out about my cousin Rohan’s Eagle Scout project, I was so excited that we could work together to create an organization with which we could accomplish our individual goals together, and help masses!
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
Our “Aha!” moment came when both Rohan and I realized how similar our goals fit together. And as we began researching more and more about the field of “hackable” assistive technologies, we uncovered the possibilities that we could fulfill with this project. For instance, one of Magical Motors’ key attributes is our self-curated curriculum. We found that, although this car-modifying movement had spread across the country, there wasn’t a standardized syllabus for students to use. So, we thought of taking the initiative to create a system where students would have access to a plethora of resources to assist them throughout the entire process. This now includes cost/supply lists, manuals, diagrams, videos, and more! We also thought of spreading our mission to STEM organizations, therapy centers, and medical centers across the country, as a way to diversify our beneficiaries. And now, we are collaborating with more than 10 nationally-renowned like-minded organizations that embrace our program and look forward to working with us!
Another essential factor that greatly motivates us, and was “the final domino” of the creation of our organization, is simply realizing what kids with developmental disabilities do not have access to: mobility. Could you imagine if you weren’t able to run around on your own? If you couldn’t race with your friends? Often, all it takes to complete something is to “put yourself in others’ shoes,” and that’s what we did. At Magical Motors, we aspire to make sure that each child is able to feel equal to every other child, that each child can race with their friends and progress toward independence.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
The first step we took to creating our organization was finding a specific problem and creating a plan on how to address it. In our case, we found that pediatric electric wheelchairs are not readily available to children with developmental disabilities, and that there isn’t a detailed approach combining the car-building process with student-community outreach. We chose to address those burgeoning issues by building assistive technologies for those children that act as a cost-and-time effective alternative to pediatric electric wheelchairs, and by creating a curriculum to spread to students and other similar organizations.
Our next step was becoming a registered 501(c)(3) organization. We worked relentlessly, for months, to achieve 501(c)(3) status, and we are very proud of that recognition, as it has allowed us to establish credibility and make a genuine impact in our communities.
One of our key “stepping stones” was searching for recipients. One of the best pieces of advice I can provide to teenagers who want to start a new organization is to “start off local.” Doing this will allow you to maintain connections with the population you are addressing while you are scaling your idea. This will also allow you to build credibility in your own community, and allow them to attest to your idea. Similarly, we started scaling by introducing our organization in Facebook groups for kids with developmental disabilities. That’s how we found Persephone, one of our first Magical Motors car recipients. Persephone is now 4 years old and has cerebral palsy. We then communicated with her, her family, and her therapist, and gave her a black Jeep Wrangler customized with Disney princesses! Ever since then, we’ve juxtaposed serving our local communities in Phoenix and Omaha with spreading our mission to other states!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
In March of 2022, we adapted a ride-on Mercedes for a 3-year-old girl named Quinn, who has caudal regression syndrome, a disorder characterized by the incomplete development of the lower spine (sacrum). When we initially gave the car to Quinn, she was not as ecstatic as we thought she would be, and was somewhat resistant to getting into her new, customized car. This also included replacing an old seatbelt, and adding some more support. From this, I realized that, initially, not everyone has the same, excited reaction, and that it is our responsibility to ensure that the recipient has that picture-perfect smile while riding their car. “Not everything always goes your way;” it is human to confront moments that lead to an unforeseen outcome. So, I got to work: I installed a new seatbelt, made the car remote-controlled, and also reinforced it with support. Just a few days later, I was able to provide Quinn with her revamped car, and she was now excited to ride her car! Since then, she has been improving in her motor and developmental skills, and I couldn’t be more elated! It truly made me realize that, sometimes, you need to experience a failure to ascertain the true value of success.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
In December of 2021, when I was building a car for 4-year-old Ollie, him, his mom, and I decided to bolster the leg support, as Ollie’s legs would not entirely extend downward. Initially, I couldn’t think of any solution to do so. However, when looking around Home Depot for another part, I ran across a high-density foam. I thought to myself, “I could use this for the leg support!” I immediately picked up two pieces, along with double-sided tape, and took it home. After cutting it and adjusting it according to the car’s design, I had created an impromptu leg support for Ollie! With experiences like these, I discerned that each situation is different, and that success in accounting for all people requires the ability to think outside-of-the-box and cater to their specific needs.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Of course! First of all, our family has supported us throughout the entire journey, from registering our organization to helping build cars, and we cannot thank them enough for all of their encouragement. We have been mentored by Meaghan Walls, the founder and CEO of Assistology, an award-winning Omaha-based nonprofit organization that creates assistive technology solutions.
In June of 2021, I was in Omaha for a scientific research summer program, and, simply as a way to become familiar with what Rohan’s Eagle Scout project was, I met Meaghan and told her that I also wanted to modify a car. Prior to this, my engineering extent building a Lego set with a manual! Nevertheless, she taught me how to rewire the ride-on BMW step-by-step. When I reflected back on building the car, I observed how simple the process was, even for someone with little engineering experience, and thought that I could integrate this program (as a curriculum) into high schools across the nation.
Prior to this, as mentioned above, she also mentored Rohan with his Eagle Scout project. In association with the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, we were able to hold a build event and donate 10 modified cars to children with cerebral palsy, and we could not have done so without Meaghan’s guidance.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
In December of 2021, we modified a red ride-on McLaren Senna for Ollie, a 4-year-old who has sacral agenesis. Otherwise known as caudal regression syndrome, sacral agenesis is a developmental disorder that inhibits the formation of the sacrum, near the lower spine. As he saw his car for the first time, adjacent to a Christmas tree, he exclaimed, “Wow! I can ride the car! I wanna ride the car!” That moment gave me such an intense rush of exhilaration, that I was successful in bringing joy and the ability to move to a child! Since then, I have kept up with Ollie’s progress, and his mom, Demi, told me that he cannot stop driving his car!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Most definitely! First, you can take action by participating in our mission and building cars! The entire activity, from finding a recipient to building the car to donating it, is very enriching and fulfilling! Believe me, there are very few things in the world that are more enriching than providing a child the ability to move on their own! Second, you can spread the word of our organization to those who are interested in opportunities like this! Finally, our final goal is to have at least one ride-on toy car model that is already adapted for a child with a developmental disability. For instance, we would be overjoyed if a ride-on toy car company made a hand-controlled, accessible car; it would prove to us that our mission has made a tangible impact for thousands of children!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Networking is key. Networking with other like-minded organizations will allow you to establish positive relations within your specific field of interest. And if those connections do not come in hand, ask them for their connections who could help you to further your mission too! Through this process, Magical Motors is now in the midst of collaborating with ACCEL, Southwest Human Development, Arizona State University, Arizona SciTech Institute, and many more organizations!
- Be committed toward a specific goal. When we started Magical Motors, we had established very little traction. We were still creating an organized plan for how we were going to execute our mission. However, I wanted to persevere and fulfill our mission, so I spent hours curating curriculum, creating a manual, a website, and laying out chapter responsibilities.
- Always look out for opportunities. Earlier this year, I was searching for a specific youth entrepreneurship competition. However, I went down a rabbit-hole, and instead found another youth entrepreneurship fundraising application. After submitting it and waiting for a few weeks, I was very pleased to receive $300 toward my organization. I thought to myself, “This could essentially fun another car!” Similarly, you never know what opportunities you will run into if you simply search for similar causes.
- Find experts in your field and reach out to them for guidance/Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Experts can help you throughout the process; because they have gone through it themselves, they will be happy to assist you in your endeavors, and can even help you find several opportunities, such as competitions, fundraising events, and internships.
- Maintain relations with your recipient base. One of the most essential parts of maintaining a successful and well-established organization is ensuring that each recipient is still satisfied with the outcome of your experience. At Magical Motors, for instance, we will fix anything in perpetuity if a car stops functioning. Through this, you will be able to develop credibility in your community and ensure that “you’ve got their back.”
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Championing an inclusive and equitable environment is critical in the progression of our society, and can solely be accomplished by furthering activities that promote collaboration amongst all members of the community. By making a positive impact on our society, you become assimilated into a diverse community. With us, you can become part of a community that is determined to make a change for the greater good.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a conversation with Bill Gates, one of the greatest innovators and philanthropists of all-time. I would enjoy speaking with him regarding the field of “hackable technology” like that of Magical Motors and the future of innovation and biomedical technology. Furthermore, he also co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and I would love to speak with him regarding his management of one of the largest nonprofit and charitable organizations in the world.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website is magicalmotors.org, where you can find more information about our cause and how you can also get involved! You can also follow our journey on Instagram and Youtube at magicalmotors. You can find my personal Instagram at aanandmehta7, and also find me on LinkedIn!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you so much for your interview! We really appreciate it!
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