Indian American teen Neha Gupta, 15, of Yardley, Pa., was named one of America’s top 10 youth volunteers of 2012 in a ceremony May 7 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning a national Prudential Spirit of Community Award for her outstanding volunteer service.
Gupta, a sophomore at Pennsbury High School in Fairless Hills, Pa., founded a nonprofit organization, Empower Orphans, that has raised more than $375,000 to provide educational and other resources to disadvantaged children in India and the United States. While volunteering at an orphanage in India, she realized that without an education, the children there faced bleak futures.
“The children would tell me how they longed to make something of their lives but were unable to do so, as they did not have the opportunity to gain a sound education,” she said in a press release. “In my opinion, every child deserves an education, healthcare, and most importantly, hope.”
Gupta also makes presentations at schools, colleges and public events, describing the plight of Indian orphans and appealing for donations. With the money she has collected so far, the teen has established five libraries in India (15,500 books), three computer centers, a science lab, and a sewing institution.
Gupta also has sponsored an eye and dental clinic and provided food, footwear, clothing and blankets to thousands of children. Recently, she expanded her philanthropic activities to the greater Philadelphia area where she donated 25 van loads of products to furnish the apartments of needy families and provided toys, bicycles, food and clothing to orphaned and abused children.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Mani Makkar of New Delhi and 11-year-old Jyoti Yadav of Rajasthan were presented with special commemorative trophies by Prudential Financial CEO John Strangfeld during the gala awards ceremony.
Makkar, a student of St. Marks Senior Secondary School in New Delhi, was honored for undertaking a variety of ambitious projects and initiatives to protect the environment.
In eighth grade, Makkar discovered that some people lacked awareness about environmental issues, and he decided to change that. He joined his school's Eco-Club and participated in tree plantation drives and anti-firecracker campaigns.
Within a year, he was selected for the Bright Green Youth Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he joined a team of young people from Australia, South Africa, UK, Denmark and Tanzania to discuss the climate change with global leaders.
In 2010, Makkar helped organize Earth Week for 3000 children to spread awareness about conserving natural resources.
Recently, Makkar was also chosen to become an “Eco Warrior” with Greenpeace. He hopes to continue his efforts to promote the conservation of environmental resources for future generations.
Yadav, an eighth-grade student at Satya Bharti Government School, was honored for spearheading a grassroots campaign to changing perceptions about widows, who are believed by some to be harbingers of bad luck.
Yadav, who lost her father a few months before she was born, had her own mother in mind
when she decided to do something substantial to change how people think about women whose husbands have died.
Under the guidance of her school principal, Yadav went from door to door to spread the message of widow empowerment, working closely with the village heads and elders in her own village and surrounding areas.
This grassroots initiative instilled confidence in several widows, who today actively participate in social events and lead Saksharta Mission (an Indian government educational initiative) and manage several aanganvadis, or shelters started by the Indian government to combat child hunger and malnutrition.