At age 13, Shreya Mantha became aware of the bubble she had been living in as an eighth grader in south Charlotte. “It’s been a very sheltered and very privileged life,” she says now as a PD senior.
She was encouraged to venture out of that bubble by her parents, who have a lifelong commitment to giving back to their own communities, from their native India to here in
Charlotte where they have lived the last 22 years. Shreya and her father Sailesh began visiting a nonprofit that helps trafficking survivors obtain their GEDs, to tutor in math
and English for an hour each week. “We didn’t know there were so many people in Charlotte, our own hometown, who needed help,” she recalled.
Shreya soon realized that the survivors needed more than just one hour of help at a time. They had missed out on having a family support system like the one Shreya and her younger sister Sahana ’24 had taken for granted until then. Shreya encouraged two of the program participants, ages 18 and 15, to attend a Providence Day basketball game with her. They blended in seamlessly. “We couldn’t just see that and go on with our life,” she
And then around that time, Shreya’s grandmother was diagnosed with cancer. As one of her dying wishes, she encouraged her granddaughter to do more to help vulnerable girls.
Soon after, Shreya formed Foundation for Girls with the help of her family. Their mission is to partner with other area nonprofits to offer a path from dependence to independence. The focus areas include digital literacy, financial wellness, leadership, and health and wellbeing.
They have now served over 1,800 at-risk girls referred by agencies that serve refugees, the homeless, domestic violence survivors, pregnant teens, and foster children. The work has struck a chord in Charlotte, which ranked 50th out of 50 cities for economic mobility in a recent study. If a child is born in the bottom quintile of income distribution in Charlotte, the chances of reaching the top quintile are just 4.4 percent.
Shreya’s work led her to a major national recognition last fall: She was selected by L’Oreal Paris as one of 10 honorees nationwide to be named “Women of Worth.” She was the only
honoree still in high school, recognized alongside women with decades of service. The honor came with a $10,000 grant to the foundation and a trip to New York City for a gala ceremony in December, where she met actresses Eva Longoria and Julianne Moore, among others. In November, the Charlotte Association of Fundraising Professionals named her the city's Outstanding Student Philanthropist.
Shreya’s mother Anu, who co-chairs the Annual Fund with her husband, appreciates PD’s emphasis on social responsibility among its students. “I’m incredibly grateful to Providence Day and the entire Charlotte community for helping her to grow in so many ways,” Anu said.
In helping her daughter with her foundation work, Anu drew from a strong background in nonprofits, including work for the World Health Organization and UNICEF. She emphasized the need for clarity of purpose, discipline, and consistency to make a nonprofit succeed. Now, Shreya is looking ahead to college at Stanford and hoping to help Foundation for Girls grow beyond Charlotte — perhaps even internationally.
The L’Oreal experience has led to contacts with partners in England, Chile, and India. The foundation plans to continue with its team of 45 volunteers and 12 youth ambassadors (many of whom hail from within the PD community).
The foundation operates out of the family’s garage and has a part-time paid employee — a graduate of Foundation for Girls who entered as a pregnant teen-ager looking for a better life for her daughter. And Sahana, now in 8th grade, is continuing her family’s tradition with her own projects of service to the community, and plans to continue her sister’s work. (For an example of Sahana’s service, visit www.thekindsquad.team).
Shreya credits Providence Day for supporting both the foundation and her Women of Worth recognition. “Providence Day has given us an incredible amount of resources,” she said. “I don’t think I could do this if I was at any other school.”
Added Anu: “Instilling in its students that there’s a need to give back to the community, that’s just so important.” And it comes with a reward, said Shreya. “There’s a magic in giving,” she said. “It’s really energizing.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of Providence Day Magazine. Shreya was also recently named the recipient of the Round Square Kurt Hahn Prize and will travel to the Round Square International Conference in India this fall.