Community Connections wins Rep. Josh Harder’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 10th District

Rep. Josh Harder has named Divya Katyal and Rana Banankhah from Modesto High School as the winners of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 10th District.

When asked what inspired the creation of Community Connections, the students said, “The inspiration for this app came from our personal experiences with seniors citizens in our community during the shelter-in-place orders.


At the beginning of the lockdown, Divya and her mother distributed flyers to the senior residents in their neighborhood, offering to purchase and provide essential resources such as groceries and disinfectants, as members of this age group are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. She even lended her pet guinea pig to a 90 year-old couple to help alleviate the burden of social isolation and uncertainty. As days in quarantine went by, Divya witnessed firsthand the increased dependency on technology to stay connected with family and friends. She saw a desperate need to sustainably bridge the digital divide for our senior neighbors. They started by fixing TV remotes, setting up tablets and phones, and teaching their senior neighbors how to connect with their loved ones through virtual tools such as Skype. Upon seeing an overwhelming response for technical help, coupled with a longing to preserve social connectedness, Divya grew motivated to create a platform to unify senior citizens at large, and volunteers who are passionate about serving our Valley community.


Around the time that the coronavirus began rampantly spreading across the United States, Rana was volunteering with a campaign, and spent most of her time phone banking. The campaign focused on calling constituents to ask if there was any way they could accommodate community members during these tough times. After making hundreds of these calls, and having hour-long conversations with our local seniors, Rana began to fully realize the scope of just how isolated senior citizens have been during this quarantine. In fact, social isolation is associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease, and a 32% increased risk of stroke, according to the World Health Organization.


We reckoned that there must be a way for people like us to virtually connect with these seniors and provide them some sort of comfort and human connection.”

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge yielded 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Replit, Accenture, and others.

The 2022 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2022, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.