Ed. note: The Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation is celebrating National Volunteer Week on April 15th – 21st to recognize individuals who serve their communities. This blog post introduces readers to Neha Gupta, a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania who built a library for underprivileged youth. Neha is a national honoree for the Make A Difference Day awards. When asked about the impact of volunteering, Neha writes:
It’s a tradition in my family to celebrate birthdays by taking food and gifts to orphaned children in my family’s hometown in India. I have participated in this custom since I was young.
When I visited India in 2005, I was marked by the harsh conditions that orphans endure. Without a quality education and support system, orphans have little means with which to change their circumstances. Instead of just feeling empathy towards them, I decided to help break this cycle. I was nine years old when I started Empower Orphans, and these last seven years have taught me much about myself and the world. Together with fellow teen volunteers, we have raised more than $485,000 to purchase necessary items and services for orphans and underprivileged children.
Over time, I have learned that volunteering and service have exponential impact. Not only have I provided orphaned children the opportunity to help themselves, but I have led thousands of others to do the same. I have met countless people who share my interest in making a difference and together we have built an ever-growing community that empowers orphans. Through volunteering, my peers have changed their own lives, too. Volunteering has prepared me, not just for college, but for the life I hope to live afterwards.
In addition to impacting orphans in Asia, Empower Orphans and its volunteers have helped underprivileged children in the United States. Last year, during Make A Difference Day, I led a team in Pennsylvania to meet the needs of children just a few miles from my home. We launched a project for a struggling school in Philadelphia at Feltonville Intermediate, whose library had shelves, but no books. The volunteer team conducted a book drive in July that gathered 3,000 titles. With generous grant funding, we bought colorful furnishings and, on October 22, my friends and I cleaned the library, sorted and shelved books, and gave the room a comfortable and inviting feel.
Drawing momentum from the success of the library, I have started an Empower Orphans club at my high school. Today, Empower Orphans has built five libraries, three computer labs, one sewing center and a science lab to help bridge the gap between underprivileged children and a future filled with opportunity.
Jonathan Greenblatt is the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation.