Rising Star: Akanksha Manna

She brings creativity and connection to senior citizens

Akanksha Manna

Photography by Martha Williams

In the early days of the pandemic, Akanksha Manna moved to India to help take care of her grandfather after his cancer diagnosis. While the pair got to bond during his treatment, Manna knew many senior citizens were much lonelier, so when she returned to Atlanta, she started leading activities at senior living centers. After organizing many rounds of bingo, Manna thought creative, art-based activities would be more engaging for residents. “Isolation is really common in senior living because the residents don’t have people to talk to, and physical disabilities can make it hard to get out and socialize,” Manna says. “Art can be a way to express emotion, and it’s beneficial for cognitive health.”

Manna cofounded the nonprofit Sketching with Seniors with fellow Campbell High School classmate Claire Jiang when she was 15 years old. Sketching with Seniors brings high school students to 15 senior living communities in the metro area but has expanded across the state, country, and even to Canada. About 10 student volunteers attend each hour-long workshop where they make art using clay, watercolors, or crochet—whatever the residents want—once a week. But it’s more about creating connections than art. “We really emphasize conversation,” Manna says. “You can be the worst artist on the planet who’s not even able to draw a straight line, but we tell volunteers to ask seniors about their day.”

From these conversations, Manna has learned that age doesn’t matter when making friends or an impact. Now a high school junior, she also conducts academic research, works as a medical scribe, and hosts a radio show on South Asian identity called Spilling the Chai. Despite her packed schedule, Sketching With Seniors will always be a priority for Manna, even as she plans to pursue a career in rural medicine. “Wherever I go, I’ll take it with me by starting a chapter or doing something with the same mission.”