Never wonder how small your impact is! — This was a frequent thought since as just sisters we had no idea how much we could change and what we could achieve. We still persisted and continued to spread the word around our communities and did our fundraisers. Even now many days we wonder whether we can really make an impact in bringing global educational equity and fight hunger for youth but we now know that we are contributing to huge causes and though we may completely not eliminate it we will definitely have started a revolution and inspire many other youth around us to also think about these causes and make their own contributions. Together we can definitely make a huge difference around us!
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanesha Hari and Varshini Hari.
Vanesha Hari and Varshini Hari share a common vision of contributing to their communities and making a difference. They started the nonprofit initiative called Joys of Giving (www.joysofgiving.org) in 2016 with a unique vision and want to contribute to both causes, fighting hunger and bringing educational equity.
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 how you grew up?
Vanesha Hari and Varshini Hari were born in Seattle, WA. Their unique mix of culture and traditions are influenced by their Asian Indian parents. They have travelled to India several times to visit their extended family and grandparents and are bilingual. They equally love to flaunt their western dresses and their traditional Indian clothes with jewelry. They have had the privilege to be globetrotters and at this young age have already travelled more than 7 countries and immersed themselves in many cultures and traditions. They love trying various foods and cuisines from around the world. They have grown up with values centered around gratitude and helping others around them. They enjoy various passions including baking, coding, playing the violin, flute and of course also sharing these skills with others and helping social causes.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Joys of Giving” is a nonprofit initiative started by Vanesha Hari and Varshini Hari in 2016, with a mission of bringing quality and relevant education to anyone in need. However, during the recent pandemic, they discovered there is also an emerging issue of children on school reduced lunch plans and youth at homeless shelters who lack access to meals. If kids don’t know where their next meal will come from, how can they possibly focus on education and skills?
Joys of Giving has a unique vision of contributing to both, fighting hunger and bringing educational equity. They imagine a world in which every individual has equal access to education and technology and do not go hungry to bed. They organize fundraisers and volunteer their skills and time with outreach activities and workshops. Education and having access to a meal should be a basic right and not a privilege!
Joys of Giving has helped fundraise 17,000 dollars for various nonprofits thus far and we have volunteered 400+ hours (www.joysofgiving.org).
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
We started this organization for a few reasons. We visited India often when we were young, and we didn’t quite understand why young girls had to work to help their families with basic needs, or why they never went to school. As we continued to observe the same patterns in several houses, we started asking our parents and grandparents how this could be fair. Back in Seattle, while helping our mother with a local fundraiser to assist the women’s homeless shelter and children in foster homes, it really hit us that suffering and unfortunate situations were in many avenues and many people needed help. We decided then that Education is key and fundamental to changing anything around us. As Nelson Mandela says “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Thus in 2016, Joys of Giving was born.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just 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 the “Aha Moment” was during one of our trips to India with our parents and family. We had visited often but were much younger and didn’t really think much of it. However, during one of our trips around 2015 we couldn’t help but question why young girls didn’t go to school and instead worked at homes as maids to financially support their families and why there was so much poverty and differences amongst people. This attention to detail and though provoking observance in addition to what we also continued to witness back home in Seattle at foster homes and shelters, was our trigger to make a change.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Honestly, our mother was a big inspiration for us. We had observed her helping local charities here in Seattle. When we were left with what we saw back in India and were determined to start making a change, we wanted to start something locally first here in Seattle. So, we called our initiative Joys of Giving because we found joy in helping and giving to others. It had a very simple mission of helping anyone in need. We knew as two of us there is only so much we can do but we decided if we didn’t start something then no one will. We had to start something and inspire others to do so. We started reaching out to our friends and teachers telling them about what we wanted to do. We started first by visiting a local homeless womens shelter to understand what they do and how it works. That was an eye opener where we then decided to narrow down our focus and start first by investing on youth so we can educate and help them young with their learnings and education. We also started creating a website so we can document our journey, experiences, and learnings www.joysofgiving.org.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the most interesting and exciting things that happened to us with Joys of Giving was when we decided to do our first baking fundraiser event. We love baking and wanted to bring our passion to life and also help a cause. We were apprehensive and didn’t know the impact or reach or who would buy our cookies and donate. There were so many open questions. We had a small goal of trying to reach 500 dollars and baking few cookies to help underserved children in Seattle. However, our words reached so many friends and communities that we were so surprised and filled with gratitude when we hit 4200 dollars and baked 80+ cookies!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
The funniest mistake we made was when we were first creating our website. We were trying to add some cool images and change somethings around but accidentally deleted the actual website pages. We were still learning all about technology and creating a website so although it was frustrating that we lost content, we laughed it off as a fun good learning experience! The biggest lesson for us here was mistakes happen and as long as we have our cause and vision in mind with a good intention, we need to take things in its stride and laugh off small mistakes since we are just starting out and that its ok.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Our mother is our biggest cheerleader and mentor who has helped shape us and come a long way in this journey! Her initial influence even when we were small kids put a seed in our thoughts that we need to give back to others however small it maybe. We still remember each year during Thanksgiving she had set in us a culture and family tradition that we will ‘give back’ something to those less fortunate around us. So every year she would buy supplies for those less fortunate and drop them off. Through helping her while shopping or dropping off we had indirectly felt the need to make a difference and how it should be our responsibility.
Another big cheerleader for us is one of our middle school teachers, who recognized the work we were doing and I was caught by surprise in 8th grade when he nominated me as the only kid for the Community Service award. He has since helped spread our word to many others and will always be cherished for the inspiration and encouragement and he continues to do that in High school for us.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
There are few stories but one that is very close to our heart especially during these tough pandemic times is our recent fundraiser for Lake Washington Schools Foundation. We helped raise 2000 dollars for few causes and most importantly to help with the free meals programs for children since they are unable to be at school in person. More details here https://www.lwsf.org/teensmakingadifference.html
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Absolutely. First, making educational resources and access to opportunities more affordable for those who are underserved. Especially now when future resolves around STEM skills, giving youth more access to these skills.
Second, increase access to basic healthy meals and make them more affordable for those in the underserved communities. If youth have no access to a healthy meal, how can they focus on education and skills?
Last but not the least, encourage and open more free or reduced cost learning centers/skills centers for youth where they can learn from others who are willing to educate and teach them future workforce skills and share knowledge.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It is ok to start small! — This is very important because when we started there were many times we would ponder and think about what just the two of us can do to make a difference. After our learnings over the last few years, we wished that someone told us at that time that starting out small is just fine. Over time things grow and mature and we will achieve much more and make a bigger impact. Today when we look at 17,000 dollars and 400+ volunteer hours and impact we can’t find enough gratitude and also think back of those good old days when we didn’t think we could even raise 100 dollars!
- It is ok to make mistakes! — Making mistakes we realize now is ok if we learn from them and move forward. However, when we just first started Joys of Giving and were quite young around the age of 10 and 8 there was a lot of apprehension and fear of unknown and what if we mess up. Luckily, our mother kept us going and helped us move forward but there were many times we wished at that time someone told us that its just fine to make mistakes.
- There will not be many young inspirations to learn from and that is ok! — When we first started Joys of Giving we wondered if we were doing something very unusual because we didn’t see kids or friends around us do anything similar. We found a little anxiety and uncertainty of maybe being abnormal or different with our vision. Now we know for a fact that many kids and parents have reached out and told us that they are so inspired with what we are doing and their kids have also started their own small contributions to the community.
- Never wonder how small your impact is! — This was a frequent thought since as just sisters we had no idea how much we could change and what we could achieve. We still persisted and continued to spread the word around our communities and did our fundraisers. Even now many days we wonder whether we can really make an impact in bringing global educational equity and fight hunger for youth but we now know that we are contributing to huge causes and though we may completely not eliminate it we will definitely have started a revolution and inspire many other youth around us to also think about these causes and make their own contributions. Together we can definitely make a huge difference around us!
- You will find cheerleaders and supporters along the way! — When we started our mother was our biggest inspiration and cheerleader. However we just didn’t know if anyone around us in the community would help us or motivate us in this journey. Many times we felt like we were in this new world with our vision where there were really not many kids doing similar things. There were times we thought maybe we should take a backseat but luckily we didn’t and now over the last few years we have found amazing strength in our school teachers and many friends! Our testimonials page say it all www.joysofgiving.org
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?
We all have a civic responsibility to lift and help others around us. When we are in a place of privilege, we have the accountability and responsibility. Each of us can do something small and collectively make a big difference in the world around us. We are always inspired by this message..
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
They strongly believe that when we have the privilege, there is also a civic responsibility to help others around us. Education and having access to a meal should be a basic right and not a privilege.
They find inspiration from this quote..
“At the end of the day, its not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. Its about who you’ve lifted up. Who you’ve made better. Its about what you’ve given back.” — Denzel Washington
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. 🙂
Michelle Obama! Meeting Michelle Obama will be our life’s dream come true!
Her life story is very inspiring and there are so many reasons we love and admire her! When we read ‘Becoming’ we were left speechless. There are several reasons we would love to meet her and few of them include how she has achieved success in a male dominated society, how well she has raised her two beautiful girls with values, how she is an amazing advocate for youth and healthy living, how she is simply ‘herself’ and so humble in spite of being in the White House and on the list of one of the most influential people in the world!
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram @joysofgivingpnw and Facebook @joysofgivingseattle
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!