It was a Sunday tradition — pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and travel to THORN Ministries in Riverview to feed the homeless.
What started in fifth-grade for Nitya Anne sparked a lifelong goal to never see another person go hungry.
“You feel like you’re doing something in the community that has a purpose,” Nitya says. “This motivates you to become a better person.”
Nitya has accumulated more than 800 volunteer hours from fund raising, tutoring and other initiatives she started. The 17-year-old junior, who lives in West Meadows but attends King High’s IB program, made a commitment in 2019 to volunteer more than 400 hours to her community. After setting proactive goals to enrich both herself and the community, she will accept a Congressional Award Gold Medal later this year.
The Congressional Award is given to individuals who complete personally challenging goals in voluntary public service, personal development, physical fitness and expedition/exploration. The award ceremony, which is usually held in Washington D.C., will occur either over Zoom or next year, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Nitya has spent most of her volunteering career at food pantries and hospitals, with a single goal in mind: to help people. She has raised more than $3,000 in the pursuit of providing the basic necessities for individuals.
Nitya’s mother Rajani, who took her to her first volunteering event, told her daughter she should apply for the Congressional Gold Medal.
“I’m really, really proud,” Rajani says. “I hope other kids get motivated by this and do more community service.”
“No Girl Left Behind” is an initiative Nitya created after her 2016 visit to India, where she saw a lack of educational opportunities for girls in the country. When she returned home, she started fundraising at local community events by selling Indian cuisine in exchange for donations towards education in India.
“I felt like the spreading of education is really important,” Nitya says. “I started helping two girls in India by giving funds from my fund raisers and this gave them the opportunity to go and learn.”
In high school, she is an active member of her school’s Speech and Debate Club, where she created a Speech and Debate camp for middle schoolers interested in learning key public speaking techniques and participating in mock competitions.
Nitya also started a tutoring club at her high school to help students of all ages struggling in their classes due to the pandemic.
Her advisor for the Congressional Award is Jessie Peña, who also is her homeroom and English 3 teacher.
“She’s really going above and beyond,” Peña says. “It’s just about who she is and the care that she has for the homeless and for other people who are in need.”
Nitya has gained new skills as a result of her volunteer efforts, such as better time management and project planning. Peña says she asks questions and contributes her ideas more.
“She’s been growing a lot as a result of her participation in this volunteer work,” Peña says. “She’s a great example of what can happen to yourself in terms of personal growth and development by giving to others.”
Nitya plans to continue volunteering and her advisor says she will most likely have 2,000 volunteer hours completed by the time she graduates from high school.
“I want to dedicate my time to helping the community as much as possible,” Nitya says. “I feel like it’s really important to continue to volunteer, even if it’s not for an award.”