Saagar Dhanjani doesn’t have much time to waste.
The Santa Fe Christian senior is a catalyst on the basketball team and an academic standout who at one point during his junior year took six AP classes simultaneously.
Dhanjani eventually wants to become a doctor so he can help others, but he isn’t waiting to complete medical school to make a difference.
So when Dhanjani became aware of the extent to which the area’s homeless population wasn’t getting the much-needed medical care the vast majority are eligible for, he decided to spend what little free time he had to take matters into his own hands.
He has since established a local nonprofit that connects the area’s most vulnerable with medical care.
The Ensuring Health Foundation provides free health screenings, enrolls the uninsured to government subsidized insurance programs and refers patients to free or low-cost clinics, such as Medi-Cal facilities.
“I just recognized how the homeless population and bad health were kind of correlated,” Dhanjani said. “So I went home and researched why that was so, and I found out that they were unaware of their benefits and that insurance brokers were not even compensated for insuring someone under Medi-Cal. So I basically decided to just connect the two.”
It was during the middle of Dhanjani’s junior year that he began his research. By last summer, EAF was already connecting the region’s most vulnerable with essential services.
Dhanjani reached out to insurance brokers by email and got a handful to volunteer for his organization. His foundation has partnered with Operation Hope, a shelter in Vista, to connect those in need with vital services.
“They’re mostly just really thankful,” he said of the reactions he’s gotten from those he’s helped through his foundation.
“These are people who haven’t had a dentist appointment for years or physical check-ups for a long time,” Dhanjani said. “They are definitely thankful for sure.”
Dhanjani acknowledged that at first it was hard to convince others that he was serious about launching a program such as this.
“It is kind of surprising that a high school student has a non-profit,” he said.
Maybe so, but to those who know him well, nothing Dhanjani does should really be all that surprising.
Dhanjani has excelled in the classroom, maintaining a 4.68 GPA, and has been a difference maker on the basketball court.
The 6-foot-2 guard is a big reason the Eagles are off to a strong start. SFC was 1-1 in Coastal League play and 13-5 overall going into a Jan. 14 league game against Army-Navy.
Dhanjani is averaging eight points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals, but he does a lot more to make his team better than his stats indicate, Eagles coach Chad Bickley said.
“He’s more of a quiet kid but he sparks our team,” Bickley said. “He’s really fast, and he gets a lot of steals just from his anticipation. A lot of our guys get a lot of credit, but he takes us over the top.”
Among his teammates on SFC’s talent-rich team who get a lot of the credit are senior wing Sam Dudley (averaging 20 points per game) and junior guards Keatten Smith (19 points per game) and Hayden Gray (18 points per game).
The Eagles are playing without star junior guard Trevan Martin, who suffered a season-ending foot injury last year.
Bickley said Dhanjani is among the team’s top defenders and has a propensity for making big plays.
“We can put him on their team’s best player, and he sparks us,” Bickley said. “He makes some incredible plays. He’s pretty entertaining to watch.”
Dhanjani prides himself on doing the dirty work that doesn’t show up in box scores, such as playing hard-nosed defense and making big plays in key moments that gives his team an emotional lift.
“I like doing the little things that make my teammates better,” he said.
Dhanjani has emerged as a leader whose unselfish playing style rubs off on teammates, Bickley said.
“He’s awesome in his athletics and awesome with his schoolwork, Bickley said. “He takes it all very seriously. It’s just a joy to have him on our team.”
Dhanjani isn’t sure what will happen to the foundation when he goes off to college later this year. He hopes to bring the program to the surrounding area of whichever college he selects and would like to see his group’s work continue in San Diego, but he doesn’t know who will run it.
He is nevertheless proud of what the foundation has already accomplished.
“We have achieved improving healthcare access among the homeless population,” he said. “That’s been kind of been my goal from the start.”
Dhanjani said the experience of setting up the foundation has been a learning experience he can bring to future endeavors.
“Probably just that I can make a large impact if I put my mind to it and how to contact people, talk to people to achieve a purpose,” he said. “It’s just kind of humbling to see the impact that you can have in the community around you.”