Arun Rajappa began working for KPMG’s Advisory practice in Washington, DC after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in 2001. While his career had been growing successfully at KPMG, there came much uncertainty with the global financial crisis, and he saw an MBA as something that would complement the on-the-job experiences he had obtained at the firm, expand his network, and differentiate him in his profession. He decided to return to UMD to grow his skillset as a leader and executive and earn his MBA through the part-time program.
Rajappa graduated with his MBA in 2008 while continuing to work at KPMG. After spending seven years at Capital One in the Audit group, Rajappa rejoined KPMG in 2018. KPMG was embarking on a digital transformation creating the opportunity for him to return to the firm and grow the Risk Management Technology function. Now, as a partner at the firm, KPMG isn’t the only thing keeping Arun busy.
As the stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic continued to grow last year, Rajappa’s 10-year-old daughter, Ava, asked her parents to help her deliver art supplies to children who might not have access to these materials.
“Sometimes, when I am scared of Covid-19 or overwhelmed with my schoolwork, I do arts and crafts to calm me down,” Ava said. “Art is so important to me, and I felt that I had to bring art to other kids.”
In May 2020, Art Love was created as a charity that brings art to children facing hardships, including homelessness and economic inequity. Never realizing the significance of art and the impact it could have on a child, Rajappa faced a project he had zero experience with.
“I felt like I was homeschooling myself and Ava at the same time,” Rajappa said.
Following Ava’s request for help, complete with a PowerPoint presentation, Rajappa, his wife Julie, who is also a University of Maryland alumnus, and their son, Kavi, jumped right in and built a website, set a goal of creating 100 art kits by the end of the summer, and sent an email to their network of friends and family introducing them to Art Love. Rajappa followed this by making Art Love an official 501(c)(3) charity with an advisory board and a guarantee of 100% of all contributions going back to the community.
Ava and Rajappa developed two ways for Art Love and its volunteers to help communities in need: Art Love Kits and Art Love 360. With Art Love Kits, there are four kits with varying sets of supplies, including a watercolor kit that costs approximately $3 and the largest craft kit which costs approximately $15.
“One little boy donated his allowance of $3, and we wanted to put together a kit that costs just that,” Ava said. “Every person who has donated to Art Love can say they personally have helped at least one child.”
With Art Love 360, the family partnered with Upcycling Colors to upcycle art supplies that would normally go to waste – broken crayons, used sticker books, etc.
“When we get broken crayons, we take the wrappers off, cut them into small pieces and melt them into LEGO people or emoji molds,” Ava said. “These fun shapes are harder to snap, which can help children with autism or disabilities who may push really hard on their crayons.”
What started as a summer project has completely taken flight. As they celebrate their one-year anniversary, Art Love has donated 3,621 kits, upcycled 615 pounds of supplies, and reached 35 nonprofits across 9 states and the District of Columbia.
When asked about her favorite thing with Art Love, Ava replied, “The fact that we’ve helped thousands of kids get supplies. And spending time with my family.”
Ava can see Art Love continuing on for years to come, and Rajappa and his wife are not only thrilled that it’s created a way for the family to work together on a shared purpose, but it’s brought together a community of 100+ volunteers, many of whom are Ava’s friends and classmates, to build and deliver kits. Anyone can support Art Love by sponsoring a corporate or community event, donating on their website or Facebook page, or volunteering time.
Reflecting on his professional career and recent charity undertaking, Rajappa encourages others to “Embrace the grey space. Most likely, your next job doesn’t yet exist, so continue to challenge yourself and be intellectually curious. Also, always look for new sources of inspiration, both of my kids prove that to me every day.”