A pair of exceedingly charitable teenage sisters will be among the guests of honor at a virtual celebration attended by former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama this weekend.
Shreyaa and Esha Venkat are just 17 and 14, respectively, but the two young women have been volunteering for years — and together, they launched the nonprofit organization NEST4US, which provides food and necessities to the homeless, tutoring, school supplies for underprivileged kids, and more services for their community in Washington, D.C.
Now the Venkat sisters are set to receive The George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award from the late president’s nonprofit, honoring them for ‘their selfless commitment to driving sustained change in their communities.’
Do-gooders: Shreyaa and Esha Venkat are just 17 and 14, respectively, but the two young women have launched their own nonprofit organization called NEST4US
Giving back: NEST4US provides food and necessities to the homeless, tutoring, school supplies for underprivileged kids, and more services for their community in Washington, D.C.
NEST4US is a pretty ambitious nonprofit: Among its initiatives are NEST Tutors, NEST Buddies — which provides birthday boxes for underprivileged kids— and NEST Kares, which provides free school supply kits for low-income families and care packages for the homeless.
Family values: The sisters told DailyMail.com they have been volunteering from a young age, learning from the example their parents set
Those care packages, called Blessing Bags, are one of the organization’s signature initiatives, and the teens now have quite a large community of volunteers helping to put them together and hand them out.
‘Hundreds of volunteers of all different ages come together to assemble care packages filled with toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo, female hygiene products, etc.), small clothing items (socks, hats, mittens, etc.), water bottles, and non-perishable food items for the homeless community,’ the teens told DailyMail.com.
The bags also contain a note of encouragement ‘to brighten the recipient’s day,’ with messages like ‘Know you are loved and appreciated!’ ‘Stay strong!’ ‘You are not alone, we are with you!’ and ‘We love you!’
The Venkat sisters say that handing these bags out, person to person, means they get to see the real impact they make, not just meeting people’s immediate physical needs by also their emotional ones.
Something to eat: One of their signature programs involves handing out food to the hungry. Groups of volunteers package the bags and give them out
Much-needed: They once handed a bag to a man who told them that he’d been praying for help, because he hadn’t eaten in days and had no money for food
Feels good: Working to give back and help the community has a positive impact on the volunteers, too
‘One day,’ they said, ‘we saw a man sitting on top of an old crate holding a sign that said HUNGRY NEED FOOD. On instinct, we reached down and took out a few sandwich bags we had made a few hours before in our Sandwich Assembly Project.
‘We saw his eyes glow in happiness. He ran over to the car and gasped in joy as we dropped the bags into his rugged hands. We could tell that he had been through a lot in his life and probably hadn’t eaten in several days.
‘As if reading our thoughts he said, “Today I was praying that someone would be generous to give me some food because I don’t have enough money to buy food and haven’t eaten anything in several days. Thank you for making my day, God bless you.”’
Another time, the girls learned that someone whom they had given several Blessing Bags to in the past had held onto the notes of encouragement.
‘Once, when the’d finished up volunteering in Franklin Square Park in D.C., a man approached with a stack of the notes,’ the sisters said.
‘With a huge smile on his face, he told us how he had kept all the notes from when we handed them out throughout the years.
Sweet: The bags also contain a note of encouragement ‘to brighten the recipient’s day,’ with messages like, ‘Stay strong!’ ‘You are not alone, we are with you!’ and ‘We love you!’
Talismans: One man once showed them that he’d held onto several notes he’d received in his Blessing Bags and looked at them when he was having a bad day
‘He went on to say that whenever he is having a bad day, he takes out the notes, which always lift his spirits when he’s feeling sad. We were speechless when hearing this, but extremely proud and happy to see that our work was making a difference in the world, one person at a time.’
Working to give back and help the community has a positive impact on the volunteers, too.
‘[It] provides an altruistic identity for our volunteers, which gives them more social awareness on how they can help those in need,’ the sisters said. ‘Many of our volunteers may not have known about the various issues we strive to solve before participating in our programs, but once they get involved, they’re able to truly see what a difference they make in the lives they touch.’
The Venkats are still quite young — Esha is in high school, and Shreyaa is a Georgetown University freshman majoring in Global Health studies — but they started volunteering at a very young age, learning by example from their parents.
‘Our mom would bring us along to volunteer at school and community events even back in elementary school. That was when we were first introduced to the world of community service,’ they said.
Taken care of: Their Blessing Bags include food, hygiene products like toothpaste, and small clothing items like socks and gloves
Fixing problems: The inspiration to start their own nonprofit came from noticing several issues in their own community that they wished they could help with, including food insecurity
‘[Our parents] have raised us to be positive people and have been extraordinary influences in our lives and always will be. We think that’s what was key: we were so passionate about volunteering right from the beginning.’
The inspiration to start their own nonprofit came from noticing several issues in their own community that they wished they could help with: food insecurity, the lack of volunteering with a passion, and diversity and inclusion.
‘When we started volunteering, we noticed so many homeless people who didn’t have access to food,’ they said. ‘We also noticed that so much food goes to waste daily in our community. So, homeless people and food waste. We put two and two together and decided that our first program, NEST Nurtures, should focus on reducing food waste and feeding the hungry.’
That involves corporate partnerships with Panera Bread and Starbucks, which both donate their excess food at the end of the day to NEST4US, which can distribute it to the hungry.
The girls soon launched other types of volunteer programs to appeal to a broader array of interests, and over the past four years, they’ve grown their organization from just the two of them to over 1,000 volunteers.
‘Seeing the grateful faces of those we serve inspires us to continue giving back and we want people in our community to feel the same inspiration,’ they said
‘Round the world! They’ve expanded globally, too, with partnerships with organizations in Zambia, India, and Vietnam
‘Seeing the grateful faces of those we serve inspires us to continue giving back and we want people in our community to feel the same inspiration,’ they said.
They’ve expanded globally, too, with partnerships with organizations in Zambia, India, and Vietnam.
It’s no surprise that the Venkat’s work has caught the attention of some very important people. To date, they’ve won countless honors including the 2020 United Nations Ambassador Award, a 2020 Virginia House Joint Bill No 460 Commending NEST4US, and the 2017/2018 President’s Environmental Youth Award Recognition
And this Saturday at 8 p.m., they are set to receive an award from George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light nonprofit, which ‘identif[ies] and uplift[s] outstanding examples of individuals advancing solutions to societal problems around the globe while exemplifying the President’s legacy of integrity, empathy, respect, optimism, conviction in the face of opposition and belief in the power of the human spirit.’
They’ll be recognized in an hour-long livestream event co-hosted by Barbara Bush, Jenna Bush Hager and Wendy Stapleton. Honorary Chairs of the event are former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
Presidential: This Saturday, they will receive an award from George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light nonprofit. Honorary Chairs of the event are former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama
Huge! Over the past four years, they’ve grown their organization from just the two of them to over 1,000 volunteers
‘When we first heard about it, we really couldn’t believe it. It was the BEST call we’ve ever gotten and we’re literally shaking in excitement! Being recognized in front of such renowned presidents is truly a huge honor,’ the sisters said.
‘We’re so humbled to receive the George H.W. Bush Award on behalf of our volunteer family, who have been such a great pillar of support. To us, the key to building a better future is believing in the power of youth and we’re so grateful to Points of Light for believing in us.
‘To honor the legacy of President George H.W. Bush through selfless service is something we are so proud of.
‘We will take this award as a motivation to continue making a difference in our community and in our world!’
As for what’s next, Shreyaa said she hopes to one day ‘lead the fight for the Sustainable Development Goals like zero waste, quality education, climate action, reduced inequalities, and responsible consumption and production, by working with global organizations like the United Nations to manipulate food distribution methods and ensure that no one lives hungry!’
‘We’re so humbled to receive the George H.W. Bush Award on behalf of our volunteer family, who have been such a great pillar of support,’ the sisters said
‘To honor the legacy of President George H.W. Bush through selfless service is something we are so proud of,’ they added
The teens also want to expand their partnerships and continue spreading their message, especially through such difficult times in the US.
‘Regardless of how bad the situation may seem, we believe that positivity and kindness towards others shouldn’t waver,’ they said. ‘Something good will come out of our current uncertain situation.
‘However, now is a good time for people to reflect on their priorities and values and appreciate all that life has given them. Spending time with family, calling old friends and elderly folks, and learning a new skill or hobby are all great ways to occupy time in a productive and worthwhile manner.’