Community//

Shreyaa and Esha Venkat: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”

Walking around the city, we observe different types of people. We saw well-dressed men in suits and ties, always in a rush. We saw some girls sitting outside a coffee shop, talking and laughing with each other. We saw a couple strolling through a park, hand in hand, enjoying the scenery together. We saw children […]

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Walking around the city, we observe different types of people. We saw well-dressed men in suits and ties, always in a rush. We saw some girls sitting outside a coffee shop, talking and laughing with each other. We saw a couple strolling through a park, hand in hand, enjoying the scenery together. We saw children begging their mothers to buy them the coolest toys at the store downtown. You may be saying to yourself, this sounds like a perfectly normal day in D.C. However, if you shift your perspective slightly, you’ll see the world through a whole new lens. You’ll notice someone in a wheelchair on the street corner with a ragged cardboard sign. You’ll notice men gazing imploringly at a coffee shop, stomachs growling in hunger. You’ll notice a woman sitting alone in a park, crying silently in pain and frustration. You’ll notice a child counting pennies in a cup, hoping he can afford a new pair of socks.

Most of us would probably ignore them, thinking that there isn’t anything we can do or that someone else will help them. But that’s not the reality. We take advantage of what we’re given and aren’t grateful enough for what we have. However, we believe that it doesn’t matter how big or small your contribution is to your community, it just matters that you do something to help.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shreyaa and Esha Venkat.

Shreyaa is the co-founder & CEO of NEST4US, with a mission to provide volunteer and leadership opportunities to the community to make the world better through kindness. She is a freshman at Georgetown University pursuing Global Health Pre-medical studies. Seventeen-year-old Shreyaa already has seven-plus years of volunteer service under her belt and has spent over 1,500 hours giving back to her community. She is an active board member of various clubs and organizations, where she provides a wide range of volunteer opportunities for the community.

Shreyaa is an academic honor roll student, a travel soccer player, a 3rd-degree black belt, a certified soccer referee, a kathak dancer, and an assistant instructor at CJR Martial Arts. Shreyaa’s generous heart and passion for service drive her determination to make a difference in the lives of others. Providing service opportunities, maintaining an inclusive attitude, and passionately serving with kindness and generosity of heart. That’s who Shreyaa is!

Esha Venkat is a 14-year-old sophomore at Broad Run High School. She is the co-founder & COO of NEST4US. Esha’s commitment to volunteering inspires countless other youth volunteers to make a difference in the community. In addition to being a Straight-A honor roll student, Esha finds time to play piano, earn her 2nd-degree black belt, enjoy hip-hop and Kathak, and serve as the captain of her travel soccer team. She is also an active member of several clubs and organizations.

Esha finds a healthy balance between academics and extracurricular activities, as well as making sure to leave time for volunteering. She has spent over 850 volunteer hours on projects ranging from feeding the homeless and tutoring kids, to helping hurricane victims and creating care packages for low-income families. Esha’s motivation comes mainly from the joy she gets from giving back to the community. According to her, it doesn’t matter how big or small your contribution is to your community, it just matters that you do something to help.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Sure! We’re Shreyaa Venkat, a freshman at Georgetown University, and Esha Venkat, a sophomore at Broad Run High School, two teenage sisters from Northern Virginia! In addition to being co-founders of NEST4US, we are academic honor roll students, travel soccer players, karate black belts, certified soccer referees, Kathak & Hip-Hop dancers, and martial arts instructors. We come from a traditional Indian background with a rich heritage. Our parents have raised us with Hindu beliefs and kept us closely connected with our culture by integrating ethnic aspects and celebrations into our daily lives. We grew up reading a lot of books and are big fans of the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series! Also, traveling with our family is something we always look forward to and so far we have visited over 18 countries including England, Ireland, India, Colombia, and the Bahamas. We love learning about different cultures, so traveling is the best opportunity for us to experience a variety of traditions and taste lots of exotic food! These vacations have created so many heartfelt memories that we will treasure forever! Since we were young, giving back to the community was something we did often with our family. Our parents are our role models, as they inspire and motivate us to grow every day without any barriers. 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. The giving spirit has been in our family for generations. Our parents often share many of our family’s service stories and experiences with us. Volunteering as a family has always been the best and we really enjoy giving back together, even to this day. I think that’s what was key: we were so passionate about volunteering right from the beginning.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

We have loved reading ever since we were little, particularly realistic fiction, fantasy, and dystopian novels. One of our favorites is Wonder by RJ Palacio because of its heartwarming and inspirational messages about kindness, friendship, and acceptance of all, no matter what we look like. The messages integrated into Wonder thoroughly resonate with our core values and beliefs, as well as the messages of diversity and inclusion we preach through NEST4US. “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” was one of our favorite quotes from the book. Through its inspirational ‘precepts’, this story touched our hearts in a very unique way.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Our favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is definitely “Be the change you wish to see in the world”, by social activist and inspirational leader Mahatma Gandhi. From our childhood volunteer experiences, we realized that there are millions of people in the world who don’t have access to basic necessities like food and some don’t even have families or loved ones. This is proof that the world needs people to spark change and build a better future. So, we thought, why couldn’t that be us? Why couldn’t we be the change we wanted to see in the world? We knew it was our responsibility as humans to give back to the people who need it the most. That’s the reason why we formed our non-profit NEST4US as a platform for giving back to the community in a multitude of ways. Over the past four years, we’ve grown from just two sisters to a team of over 1,000 volunteers who give back passionately to the community who altogether have contributed over 450,000 dollars in value of volunteer hours! Just one glimpse at our volunteer family brings us so much hope for the future of humanity. We all come from different backgrounds and different places, but when we come together to serve, we all have one common goal in mind; to help someone in need & spread kindness. Together, we can spark global change by nourishing the community, inspiring the world, & touching lives & hearts wherever we go. A single droplet of water can create ripples that change the course of the world. We’re that droplet who initiated a wave of service in our community so that others could feel the same happiness and pride we do when giving back. Organizations like Points of Light believe in the power of youth to make a lasting impact by recognizing and celebrating everyday heroes. From them, we’re so humbled to receive the 2020 George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award. It is so incredible to be acknowledged alongside extraordinary changemakers like Marc and Lynne Benioff, co-chairs of TIME, and Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani! We’re proud to be continuing the legacy of President George H.W. Bush through volunteerism by advancing solutions to societal problems around the globe while exemplifying his legacy of humility and empathy.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Initially, we noticed three key issues in our community that we wanted to tackle — 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. Also, we 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. Another thing we noticed was that most people do community service solely for hours or other incentives, which we believe defeats the purpose. That’s why we decided to provide a variety of programs that allow people of all ages to give back by doing something that interests them. Through social media platforms, we serve as advocates for positive change in the community and promote diversity and inclusion by welcoming people of all backgrounds to our volunteer family. However, serving solo wasn’t our plan. We really wanted to get our friends and community involved, so we formed NEST4US, a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission to provide volunteer solutions to the community to make the world better through kindness. Our volunteer team of 1,000+ supports the community through our five core programs. NEST Nurtures (food redistribution program) serves homeless people & low-income families and rescues excess food from corporate partnerships with Starbucks and Panera Bread. We supply care packages and school supply kits to disadvantaged communities through NEST Kares. In addition, we help underprivileged children celebrate their birthdays by providing “Birthdays-InA-Box” through NEST Buddies. We also provide leadership and mentoring services through our free virtual tutoring program, NEST Tutors, and our leadership program, NEST Inspires. Through our organization, our team has contributed over 450,000 dollars in value of volunteer hours and expanded globally to impact people from around the world! Our overall vision is to empower people of all ages and backgrounds to create a more compassionate and inclusive world by instilling a passion for service in their communities through random acts of kindness.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. We just don’t get up and do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

For us, taking the first step is crucial. It doesn’t matter if the solution seems miles away; initiating awareness about an issue can spark change. We found the beginning of our passion staircase four years ago in downtown DC. Often, we visited DC just to sightsee and enjoy the beautiful museums and monuments.

Walking around the city, we observe different types of people. We saw well-dressed men in suits and ties, always in a rush. We saw some girls sitting outside a coffee shop, talking and laughing with each other. We saw a couple strolling through a park, hand in hand, enjoying the scenery together. We saw children begging their mothers to buy them the coolest toys at the store downtown. You may be saying to yourself, this sounds like a perfectly normal day in D.C. However, if you shift your perspective slightly, you’ll see the world through a whole new lens. You’ll notice someone in a wheelchair on the street corner with a ragged cardboard sign. You’ll notice men gazing imploringly at a coffee shop, stomachs growling in hunger. You’ll notice a woman sitting alone in a park, crying silently in pain and frustration. You’ll notice a child counting pennies in a cup, hoping he can afford a new pair of socks.

Most of us would probably ignore them, thinking that there isn’t anything we can do or that someone else will help them. But that’s not the reality. We take advantage of what we’re given and aren’t grateful enough for what we have. However, we believe that it doesn’t matter how big or small your contribution is to your community, it just matters that you do something to help.

We had just gone to DC and were heading back home when we approached a traffic light and saw a man at the street corner holding a sign that said HUNGRY NEED FOOD. On instinct, we took out a banana, granola bar, and a bottle of water from our bag we had in case we’d gotten hungry. Without hesitation, we rolled down our window and called to the man. The moment he heard us, we saw his eyes glow in happiness. He ran over and gasped in joy as we placed the food and water into his rugged hands. We could tell that he had been through a lot in his life and that he needed this food more than we did. As if reading our thoughts, he said, “Today I was praying someone would be generous enough to give me some food because I haven’t eaten anything in several days. Thank you for making my day God bless you.” We smiled and told him that everything would get better, just have faith. He nodded graciously at us and ran back over to his crate, stuffing his new treasure into a simple backpack that held his belongings. That got us thinking…

Our visits to DC became more frequent after that experience, but for a more meaningful reason. We were aware of the severity of the homelessness issue in DC prior to our interaction with the homeless man, but it was at that moment that we came to realize how impactful 30 seconds of kindness can be to a person. We also noted how much a simple meal meant for him, something many of us take for granted every day. This led us to take action by starting from our own community. We noticed that so much food was wasted in school cafeterias & restaurants that could be going to people who really needed it. This ignited our passion to combat food waste and feed the planet.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One Sunday morning, we headed over to Franklin Square Park in D.C. to distribute blessing bags to the homeless people living there on the streets. Whenever we go serve, even if it’s just a simple meal, we’re giving them food that helps them live for another week. By serving them every week, we not only give them nourishment in the form of food, but also by love and care, which gives them a sense of hope and makes them feel less alone in the world. After we finished giving out those bags, we were heading back to the car when a homeless man approached us, with a big stack of notes in his hands. 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. He went on to say that whenever he is having a bad day, he takes out the notes, which always lift his spirits and brightens his day. 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!

We really want to break the stigma that all homeless people are mean and cruel. That’s simply not true. Through our experiences with them, we have come to realize that they are actually really nice and wise and have incredible stories to tell.

We still remember our first Thanksgiving feast with the homeless community, where our team of volunteers all cooked food and brought it to Georgetown Ministry Center, a shelter in DC, for the big feast. Thanksgiving is known as a time where families come together and enjoy a delicious meal together. But most of the homeless people we served didn’t have food or loved ones. So when we sat down with them and listened to their stories, it wasn’t like we were volunteers, we were there for them and we were their family.

Are there three things that the community can do to help you in your great work?

There are several ways the community can help and support NEST4US! Here are 3 three things the community can do to help us achieve our goals:

1. People in the community can volunteer through our five core programs, through which they’re able to give back doing something that interests them. Whether that is through feeding the hungry and homeless, tutoring a child, or simply sending a note of encouragement and smile to someone having a rough day, anyone can get involved regardless of where they live! Some virtual volunteering opportunities we’re offering are virtually tutoring kids from around the world, participating in our virtual kindness challenge, and creating notes of encouragement right from home. However, the easiest way to get involved is simply by spreading kindness and positivity wherever you are. There’s a way for anyone in the world, regardless of age or background, to get involved in the community and join Team NEST!

2. Also, people can provide in-kind or monetary donations to support our vast array of projects and programs through our website www.nest4us.org. Financial support is crucial in order to grow our organization to an even larger scale, so every little bit helps!

3. The key to building a better future is believing in the power of youth to make a difference in the world! Something we strongly believe is that you’re never too young to change the world and action is the universal language of success. So, we really want our community and the world to believe in the power of youth and support our work by spreading awareness of the causes we strive to tackle, as well as spread messages of positivity and kindness, wherever they can.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For us, leadership is not only motivating others to act a certain way, but also allowing others to lead. This brings diverse perspectives to the table when a team is faced with obstacles and ultimately leads to an insightful and effective end result. As nonprofit leaders in the community, we want to inspire others to give back with a true passion for service rather than solely for hours or another incentive.

No leader is born with all the abilities to succeed in the first place. It takes time and effort to improve your leadership skills. As a leader, we focus and enhance our qualities, which helps us to empower and inspire our team. We go “above and beyond” because of our dedication, work ethic, reliability, and eagerness to help others. Being teachers (assistant martial arts instructors) and community leaders have taught us how to overcome obstacles, show compassion and understanding to others, and stay determined towards a goal by never giving up. For us, participating in activities that we’re passionate about has motivated us to continue putting forth our best effort to serve the greater good.

Service has allowed us to see the world through different lenses, where people less fortunate than us become the focus. As the founders of NEST4US, we have gained experience in serving various disadvantaged communities and have been exposed to the most pressing issues facing modern society. Our motto is if you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one. By following our passion for service and volunteerism, we’re able to inspire others to give back to their communities and follow their own passions. According to us, EVERYONE has the power to make a difference, whether they consider themselves a leader or not. We strongly believe that even if you have nothing else to give to someone, your kindness will mean the world to them.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Five things we wish someone told us when we first started are:

1. Networking is Key- Collaborations and partnerships have helped us develop our organization greatly. This is definitely something we wish we knew at the beginning, but we are glad we learned it along the way! We’ve forged partnerships with corporate businesses like Starbucks and Panera Bread, as well as with local schools and the community, to expand our food redistribution program NEST Nurtures. At the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with people to impact lives.

2. Always be Authentic- Over the years, we’ve learned that the best way to share your passion with the world is to be yourself! For us, our special birthday celebrations with the homeless community are close to our hearts and are something we look forward to every year.

3. Prepare to Adapt and Embrace Versatility- “At the end of the storm, there is always a rainbow.” Regardless of how bad the situation may seem, we’ve learned that positivity and kindness towards others shouldn’t waver. For us, it’s mostly how you adapt to change that determines success. For example, by adapting our organization NEST4US in innovative ways during the pandemic, we’ve been able to reach and help people in need during the crisis. We have also been able to transition our NEST Tutors free tutoring program onto virtual platforms, impacting people worldwide!

4. Be Prepared to Sacrifice- If you want to truly grow your impact, certain sacrifices are essential. Developing NEST4US has led us to have to sacrifice birthday parties, get-togethers, movie nights, etc. Community service has really helped strengthen our time management and organizational skills, which allows us to put equal amounts of effort into everything that we do. A little time management and organization goes a long way!

5. Don’t Underestimate the Small Things- There is a common misconception that only big actions can make a true impact. However, we strongly believe that small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world in a positive way! In all of our Blessing Bags and Sandwich Bags, we include a sweet note of encouragement. Some of the phrases we write on the notes are “Know you are loved and appreciated!”, “Stay strong!”, “You are not alone: we are with you!”, “We love you!”, among other uplifting messages. Through our service, we have learned that it only takes 30 seconds to change someone’s ENTIRE day or even life for the better.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The feeling you get when you contribute meaningfully to society is so fulfilling and honestly unparalleled. Giving back opens your eyes to so many diverse perceptions of the world, as it allows you to meet and connect with people of all different backgrounds. When you surround yourself with people who share the same passion and ultimately the same dedication of making the world a better place, you realize how truly rewarding it is to be part of something bigger than just yourself.

We want people to look at the world in a different way, a world where they’re not the center. Service provides a great pathway for this, yet many claim they don’t have enough time to volunteer. Lots of people wonder, how do we manage to balance academics, extracurriculars, and still keep time open in our schedules to give back consistently? However, we believe that you don’t need to have time, you should make the time to help others. Think about this. What do people enjoy doing in their free time? Maybe, watching a movie, hanging out with friends, or going to the mall? We all block out time in our schedules to do these things, so why can’t we do that with community service as well? It’s easy, fun, and you get to meet and connect with new people while helping those in need!

We may only be 14 and 17-year old kids from a small part of the United States, but we believe that, with the vital traits of kindness and generosity, anyone, young or old, rich or poor, can make a difference!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There have been many people in our community who have inspired us to follow our passions and motivated us to continue making a difference, a prime example being our parents. However, we would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with former First Lady Michelle Obama because of her commitment to empowering and inspiring young people, especially girls, to get involved in their community in meaningful ways. We absolutely love her and continue to be inspired by her incredible work!

We believe that showing other girls of color that they can do anything they put their minds to is crucial. In many places, women of color are discriminated against and aren’t given the opportunity to follow their passions or pursue their goals! That’s why through our organization, we make sure to provide volunteer and leadership opportunities for all ages and backgrounds through our various programs. We want to show people that anyone, regardless of age or race, or gender, can change the world and make a true difference in their communities. We greatly admire how Michelle Obama uses her platform for good by ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity to be the best versions of themselves! As young women of color, we want to be role models and emphasize the power of youth voices to bring about positive change. Embracing diversity of all on this planet is critical to building a better, kinder future!

How can our readers follow you online?

To be part of our volunteer family, viewers can visit our website at www.nest4us.org! If readers would like to view photos and videos of our team in action, they can follow us on our social media platforms:

  • Facebook: NEST4US
  • Twitter: @joinnest4
  • Instagram: @joinnest
  • YouTube: NEST4US

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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