A pandemic upended their communities, so these teen inventors built apps to make life easier

Riya Shah received a patent for her contraction monitoring device in March.

(CNN)Riya Shah walked into her high school without knowing it would be her last day in person.

It was March when the uncertainty of a pandemic flooded her life in Louisville, Kentucky. Classes transitioned to virtual learning. Then prom was canceled. By May, graduation was altered to follow social distancing guidelines.
"It was definitely very disheartening when all of these major milestone events got canceled," said Shah, a high school senior at the time. "Those are things kids dream of when they're growing up."
    But one milestone that Shah had long dreamed of was finally realized -- receiving her first patent for a contraction monitoring device in March.
    The 18-year-old founder and president of Fetal Life has spent the past three years developing technology to help expecting mothers manage their health remotely. When the pandemic struck, Shah refocused her existing platform to help women navigate pregnancy in a landscape where a trip to the hospital can pose new risks. She is one of many young inventors who have turned their attention to fighting a global pandemic that has infected more than 32 million and claimed nearly a million lives.
    Riya Shah started Fetal Life after hearing of how her mother faced several instances of false positive contractions. "Her story really inspired me to figure out a way I could help," Shah said.
    "We're worried about our health and going out, but pregnant moms are worried about two lives," Shah said. "So what can we do to help them out?"
    From telehealth platforms to apps connecting donors with those in need, rising entrepreneurs have channeled the disruption to their lives into effecting change.

    'Kindness begins with me'

    Each summer, aspiring coders gather on MIT's campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for an app invention summit. But this year, the hackathon went virtual -- limiting face-to-face contact, but opening it up to the world.
    "There was a sense of helplessness that was settling down. And a big theme in our workplace is empowerment," said Selim Tezel, co-chair of the MIT App Inventor Hackathon 2020. "We wanted to give them a context in which they could be creative and sort of get rid of that feeling of helplessness."
    Saan Cern Yong, a 15-year-old app developer in Malaysia, had followed the hackathon for several years. But now that the competition had moved online, he could finally enter. And he won.
    Yong started with the value that "kindness begins with me and we can take action immediately." He designed a mobile app called "We Are Family" to create a charity network within his community to help with the fallout from Covid-19. The prototype was awarded first place in the youth individual category.
    Saan Cern Yong has been coding with the MIT App Inventor for six years.
    "I stayed at home for quite some time, and I found a lot of things that I didn't need, like some plates or some food that are too mu