When New Tampa resident Harsh Bagdy was in the fifth grade at Montessori Preparatory School, the place he loved the most was the soccer field — and it was in bad shape. More rocks and dirt than grass, it was too dangerous to play on.
So Harsh, whose father Ash had instilled in him a passion for giving back, decided to do something about it. Together, they rallied people in the community to raise $40,000 for a brand new field.
That was only the beginning. In seventh grade, Harsh secured enough money to build a new computer lab at Terrace Community Middle School. By his sophomore year at King High, he had founded his own nonprofit, Charity Health Resources, a 501(c)(3) that raises money to purchase quality wheelchairs, walkers, shower chairs and other devices for people without adequate health insurance.
“I see mobility as something we all take for granted,” said Harsh, whose mother Kavita Jain works as a physical therapist. He said she often tells him about the great need for mobility equipment she sees.
“It’s impossible to go out, have a job or do really anything if you aren’t mobile, and if you’re worried about paying for food or housing, you can’t do anything about it,” he said.
Harsh, 17, a first-generation American whose parents moved to Tampa from India 25 years ago and now a junior in high school, was honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 19 as this season’s 25th Lightning Community Hero.
He received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program. Half of the money will go towards his own education. He gave the other half to Metropolitan Ministries, an organization he’s been volunteering with since the sixth grade, and the one he turned to when establishing Charity Health Resources.
“I instantly connected with Metro’s outreach team, because we had something they couldn’t easily provide and they could find people who needed it,” said Harsh.
A new partnership between Metropolitan Ministries and Charity Health Resources, made possible by Harsh’s winnings, will put more members of the outreach team further into the community, allowing them to find mobility-challenged clients who are unable to travel to the main outreach center in Tampa Heights.
“Because of Harsh, when our team meets someone in the community with a handicap or mobility challenge, we can just call him up and he’ll fulfill the need,” said Metropolitan Ministries’ president and CEO Tim Marks. “That’s something we never could have done without him.”
Charity Health Resources, said Harsh, has made between 15-20 donations in its first year. Their first donation was a new wheelchair for a 9-year-old boy named Sabian with spina bifida. He was growing too big for his chair and too heavy for his mother and grandfather to carry around, but his insurance wouldn’t pay for another wheelchair for two more years.
The chair that Charity Health Resources donated to him enabled him to return to riding around in his grandfather’s car, spending time with his cousins and other family.
“I really enjoy hockey,” said Harsh, who attended the January 19 Lightning game against the San Jose Sharks as the team’s guest of honor. “I see it as a faster-paced soccer game.”
When Harsh — who is enrolled in demanding International Baccalaureate (IB) classes at King and travels multiple weekends a month for debate competitions, and also is a Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) member — isn’t at school or doing charity work, he still loves playing soccer and occasionally goes out for movies or dinner with his friends.
He’s hoping for admission into a prestigious business school to pursue his interests in business.
“Being chosen for this award felt amazing, both for me and for the work I’m doing,” Harsh said. “I may get the recognition for it, but the best part is that it allows me to spread my branches further and help people in areas I couldn’t reach before.”
For more information about Charity Health Resources, visit charityhealthresources.org. For additional information about the Lightning Community Hero award, visit NHL.com/lightning/community/community-heroes.