NEST4US siblings Shreyaa and Esha Venkat
Like most modern teenagers, siblings Shreyaa and Esha Venkat are passionate about creating a better tomorrow for the future generation. But unlike other solutions-focused sister-teams, these two are going the extra mile.
They started NEST4US, a non-profit organization dedicated to working with communities to create volunteer and leadership opportunities for young people. NEST, which stands for Newer Environment Starts Today, aims to empower the younger generation to integrate kindness, generosity, and social good into their daily lives.
“Our goal is to create a ripple of kindness that spreads across the nation and eventually throughout the globe.”
Both Shreyaa, 17, and Esha, 14, are very familiar with the world of social good. Between them, the sisters have clocked over 1,500 hours on volunteer projects – and that’s alongside being straight-A students, members of several clubs and organizations. We virtually sat down with the two to find out how they balance it all, what NEST means to them, and more!
What inspired you to start NEST?
We have a great passion for volunteering & community service and strongly believe that a little kindness goes a long way. We started off our initial volunteering helping at schools, libraries, and community events, as well as at senior homes and by tutoring kids. We’re also board members of several organizations, where we provide a wide range of volunteer opportunities. But serving solo wasn’t our plan. We really wanted our friends and community to get involved, so we formed NEST4US as a platform for giving back to the community in a multitude of ways. Our goal is to empower the next generation of compassionate youth to integrate kindness, generosity & social good into their routine.
Our organization focuses on three key issues in the community→ food insecurity, lack of motivation to volunteer with a passion, and diversity and inclusion. 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.
Between school, sports, and activism, you have a lot on your plate! How do you manage it all?
Since we’re in high school, we have to find a healthy balance between academics and extracurriculars, while making sure to leave time for volunteering. However, community service has strengthened our time management skills & has taught us how to prioritize so that we can pour equal amounts of energy into everything we do. Through our service, we have learned how to work better with others & how to manage large groups of people. As black belts & assistant instructors, we teach students not only martial arts, but also good character and discipline. Being a teacher has taught us how to overcome obstacles, show compassion and understanding to others, and stay determined towards a goal by never giving up. How to lead and allowing others to lead are two skills that we have learned along the way.
You both have hours upon hours of volunteer work clocked – what has been your favorite volunteering experience?
We had many defining moments when we realized that the choices and actions we made could make a difference in our future and in the lives of others. So one day, after serving at a shelter in D.C, we were driving back home and just talking about how our volunteer experience was that day. We approached a traffic light and saw a man sitting on top of an old crate holding a sign that said HUNGRY NEED FOOD. On instinct, we reached into our bag and took out a banana, granola bar, and bottle of water that we had kept in case we got hungry after volunteering. Without hesitation, we rolled down our window and called to the man. After all he was hungrier than we were and probably hadn’t eaten in several days. The moment he heard us, we saw his eyes glow in happiness. He ran over to the car and gasped in joy as we dropped 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 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.” It only takes 30 seconds to change someone’s entire day.
A few months after, we encountered a homeless man, when we headed over to Franklin Square Park to distribute sandwich bags to the homeless people living there. 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 arms. 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 make him feel loved and appreciated and 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. Seeing the grateful faces of those we serve inspires us to continue giving back.
NEST has had so many positive impacts – what has been the most rewarding experience thus far?
Our main goal is to increase awareness and action around food waste reduction, and rescue & redistribute safe edible foods to those in need. Through our NEST Nurtures program we have served over 25,000 homeless people & low-income families in the Washington Metro area. We sponsor and serve meals at over 32 shelters and help at food banks as well. We partner with Starbucks Corporate Food Recovery Program, & Panera’s Day-End Dough-Nation program, through which we collect their unsold bread products & distribute it to various homeless shelters. Till date we have rescued over 35,000 pounds of food from corporate food businesses and our community. Also, we have partnerships with local schools in rescuing leftover food from cafeterias to feed the hungry. The most rewarding part of our volunteer work has been the connections we have made. Not only the connections with the volunteers, but more importantly, the friendships developed with the homeless people we serve are truly special.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – what does this quote mean to you?
Finding a cause you’re passionate about helping and then spreading awareness about it around your community is the first step towards getting more involved in your community. By following our passion for service and volunteerism, we’re now able to inspire others to give back to their communities and follow their own passions.
Seeing the grateful faces of those we serve inspires us to continue giving back. We want people in the community to feel the same inspiration. Just 30 seconds of kindness is all it takes. Our goal is to create a ripple of kindness that spreads across the nation and eventually throughout the globe.
Volunteering with NEST4US has been an enriching experience for my elementary and middle school children. Shaping a philanthropic heart is important and NEST4US provides that platform.
-Kemoy LC, Adult Volunteer
The NEST volunteer group keeps growing! What do you think this says about the younger generation?
Personally, we believe that one doesn’t need to have any special skills to positively impact someone’s life. That’s why through NEST4US, we advocate for positive change in the community.
As local schools and organizations began witnessing the impacts we made on disadvantaged communities through our various programs, they started reaching out to NEST4US for volunteers instead of the other way around. Driven by a passion for service & motivation from the happy faces of the people we serve, we’ve inspired kids as young as four years old to spread kindness and participate in community service with passion for giving back rather than solely for hours or other incentives. Our team of volunteers are in age groups ranging from 4 through 70. We’re happy to have another chapter in Maryland. In just 4 years, we’re so proud to have grown from a small project to an impactful organization with over 900 volunteers!
It has been an honor and a privilege to volunteer alongside the young people from NEST. Each of them are exceptional citizens individually and collectively. I look forward to watching them lead their community and this country in their adult years in progress!
-Commissioner Jason Anthony, Washington DC
How have you two been doing amid the COVID-19 lockdowns?
During quarantine, we’re enjoying quality family time by playing card & board games, watching movies, and cooking meals together. It has been a difficult adjustment from always being out in the community to being stuck inside our home. However, even in the midst of a pandemic, we’re still making an impact in the community by continuing to serve those in need.
Through our NEST Nurtures program, we’re continuing to rescue and redistribute excess food to serve the homeless community, low-income families, and underprivileged kids through the Backpack Buddies program. During each food rescue, we make sure to follow Governor Northam’s COVID regulations of maintaining six feet distance between each volunteer & keeping our team to groups of six and under. Through NEST Kares, our care package program, we’re consistently assembling care packages filled with toiletries & nonperishable food items and distributing them to those in need in the Washington Metro Area despite the outbreak. Due to COVID, we’ve transitioned our NEST Tutors program onto virtual platforms. This way, students are given both the academic and emotional support they need so they don’t fall behind with schools closed due to COVID. Even with all the negative effects of the pandemic, we have still found a positive perspective through global partnerships with organizations in Zambia, India, & Vietnam. Through these global partnerships, NEST4US is helping underprivileged students achieve academic success, while simultaneously contributing to the UN Global Goals.
During the pandemic, everyone is feeling the effects, especially high-school seniors. As a senior myself, I know we didn’t get to participate in any senior milestone experiences. So, we decided to support seniors around the nation by sending them graduation congratulatory cards! We’ve sent out over 400 graduation cards so far!
Regardless of how bad the situation may seem, we believe that positivity and kindness towards others shouldn’t waver. We like to say, Spread Kindness not the Virus!
What can we expect to see next from NEST?
We believe in the power of collaboration and are continually forging partnerships with other nonprofits to find new and innovative ways to help those in need. Currently, we partner with Starbucks Food Recovery Program and Panera Bread’s Day-End Dough-Nation Program. As we continue to expand, we hope to partner with major grocery store chains including Whole Foods, Safeway, Wegmans, Giant, and LIDL, to further reduce the negative ecological impact of food waste and turn what is considered useless to these companies into consistent meals for those who live hungry. Through partnerships with major food corporations and businesses, we will broaden our impact on homeless communities and low-income families, reduce the drastic levels of food waste, and touch more lives!With continued support from organizations and businesses, NEST4US will be able to impact more communities and touch more lives and hearts on a larger, global scale.
Additionally, we wanted to implement NEST Inspires’s first leadership summit in the fall! The key attributes of this program will be public speaking, communication sessions, keynote presentations on making a difference from community leaders, interactive workshops, awareness of issues and challenges in the community, and an opportunity to make new friends and connections!
If you can give any advice to make a difference in the world as we see it now what would it be?
Through NEST4US, we emphasize the importance of spreading kindness & positivity always. Instead of doing something nice for someone else every once in a while, we believe that kindness should be a lifestyle instead of a one-time action. There are so many acts of kindness people can do everyday that can make a difference regardless of how big or small the action is. The best part about kindness is its ripple effect. Once you consistently spread kindness and generosity, others will follow your example and eventually the ripple of kindness will spread across your community, and eventually the entire world. It only takes 30 seconds to change someone’s day, or even life, for the better!
The easiest way to get involved is simply by spreading kindness and positivity wherever you are.
How can our viewers reach you and get involved?
To get involved in our organization, viewers can visit our website at www.nest4us.org and follow us on social media. We’re on Instagram @joinnest, Facebook NEST, and Twitter @joinnest4. You can sign up to be an online tutor from anywhere in the world and create notes of encouragement from your own homes! There’s a way for anyone in the world, regardless of age or background, to get involved in the community and join our volunteer family!