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Pranav Somu develops database software for Foster Closet

MADISON – Pranav Somu, a junior at James Clemens High School, has developed software to help match resources with needs at North Alabama Foster Closet.

James Clemens teacher Emily Harris volunteers with Foster Closet and knew her students’ talents and interest in creating solutions for real-world problems.

The Foster Closet is a community-based, volunteer-run non-profit resource for foster, adoptive and kinship families across North Alabama. The organization meets tangible needs with new or gently used clothing, shoes, coats, furniture, gear and supplies.

In summer 2020, Foster Closet contacted James Clemens, searching to build an online database application. The proposition interested Pranav, who had completed programming courses and competitions and had growing passion in computer science.

“I knew a bit about foster care, but, honestly, I didn’t have much of an idea about why foster care is important or how it works,” Pranav said. After some reading, Pranav soon realized “how crucial foster care is to provide a safe and stable environment for kids who cannot stay with their parents for some unfortunate reason.”

“More than 400,000 children are in foster care nationwide – highlighting the importance of keeping the foster care system healthy,” Pranav said. “Less than three percent of foster children earn a college degree. Around 20 percent eventually become homeless.”

Fifty percent of new foster parents quit within one year because of adequate supplies.

Pranav logged 300-plus hours, developing thousands of lines of code for the project. “Creating this application was a brilliant opportunity to work on a real-world problem and give back to the community, all while gaining many, many new skills and practical experience,” Pranav said.

Foster Closet was using a massive Google form with thousands of disorganized entries. This process became outdated with increased clients and extremely slow computer response.

Building his application was the best way to help virtually during quarantine. Pranav’s goal was more streamlined communication to/from families, tracking requests and easier data collection/manipulation for grants — with little-to-no cost to Foster Closet.

Pranav’s software can help in expanding outreach, launching large-scale projects and increasing impact in foster community.

While developing this application, Pranav learned many new programming skills. He implemented the web framework, Django, for resources and connections for all required components. He built the front end (which people use to interact with the application) with Javascript, CSS, HTML and Django Template Language.

Pranav said the back end has two main parts:

* Data storing and management. — Using PostgreSQL database, Pranav learned SQL for setup and general management.

* General background processing and logic – Using Python software.

“For testing and evaluation, I’m hosting the application on Ubuntu virtual machine provided by DigitalOcean. Gunicorn, Nginx and other helper software to run and secure the app,” Pranav.

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