Shreya Mantha may be just 17 years old, but she’s already making a huge impact in her hometown of Charlotte, NC, and beyond – so much so that she’s been named a 2018 Women of Worth honoree. Women of Worth is L’Oréal Paris’ philanthropy program that honors 10 women each year who are making a difference by serving their communities.
Shreya, now a high school senior, created Foundation For Girls three years ago when she was just 13. The nonprofit partners with community organizations around Charlotte to reach girls in shelters, safe homes, rescue and rehab facilities, after-school centers and crisis centers. Many are refugees, teen moms and survivors of human trafficking. The foundation pairs the girls with “caring coaches” to help with everything from budgeting and leadership to health and their overall well-being. We’re excited to introduce you to our newest FACE, Shreya Mantha!
What made you start Foundation For Girls?
My journey began in eighth grade when one of my mentors asked if I would tutor survivors of sex trafficking who were middle school dropouts to help them earn their GED. For the next nine months, every Friday evening, after school, along with my dad, I tutored Ashley, a 17-year-old with a 3-year-old son in state custody, and Alijah, a 15-year-old repeat runaway from foster care and abuse. During the first Friday session, I was shocked to learn that both were too hungry to focus. So, before my next visit, I reached out to the owners of a local bread company and asked if they would share a few loaves every week. They did.
When tutoring Ashley and Alijah, I was surprised that they would never look me in the eye, and they were resistant to learning. They had so many people who went in and out of their lives that they did not want to make space for people who may or may not be there the next day or next time around.
As time went on, they opened up to me like a friend and shared how they have never had consistent, caring people in their lives. They had lived between shelters and streets all their lives. When shelters closed, or they exceeded their time living at a residential home, they were back on the streets. They did not have the skills and tools needed to become independent. I had to do something.
Then, in the fall of 2014, when my paternal grandmother was suffering from pancreatic cancer, she told my sister and me that if there was one thing that we could do to keep her memory alive, it would be to help at-risk girls. The culmination of these events and a family culture to engage in the community is how Foundation For Girls was created in December of 2014.
Tell us about some of the milestones.
Today, we are a team of 45 volunteers, 12 youth ambassadors and many community partners. From December of 2014 to June 2018, we have empowered 1,480 girls, facilitated 289 workshops and invested over 14,000 hours in changing the life trajectory of at-risk girls.
How did you go about making this happen at such a young age?
Through collaboration and partnerships. When I began, I was 13 years old, and I knew that I could not do this alone. My family has been my most significant support structure. I am fortunate to have the support of many peers and professionals who joined in the mission to change the life-trajectory of girls in crisis.
Foundation For Girls is a community of “passionate coaches,” who bring consistency and have been engaged with the organization for many years. Many of my peers work alongside professionals like bankers, teachers, technologists, leadership and life coaches, chefs, nutritionists and doctors.
How do you manage being a teenager, schoolwork and running a nonprofit?
It is a balance that I strive to maintain. It can be hard. I am fortunate to have a strong team. At times, I am juggling many things — from studying physics to planning for a digital literacy workshop to preparing for an event or presenting to a corporation. At the end of the day, I enjoy teaching, working with the children, and there is pure joy. Every time I think about the girls who we are working with, it pushes me to do more.
What advice do you have for other girls your age about making an impact?
We can all make an impact, and no one is ever too young to start making a difference in their community. To make a change, get to know your community and its needs, begin now and begin small. Think of long-term impact. You have the power to make an impact if you put your mind to it and make a consistent effort.
What does it mean to be a Woman of Worth?
I am honored to be a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth. Being a part of Women of Worth for me means having a global platform to advance equity and influence social change by continuing to nurture the leader in every girl — ensuring that girls and youth in crisis are financially savvy, digitally capable and empowered leaders with a healthy mind, body and spirit.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
We are in the midst of planning for Foundation For Girls’ growth and expansion beyond Charlotte. We are on the path to reach 2,600 girls and youth by 2020, a goal we set in 2014.
What worries you about being a young woman in our current society?
Not enough attention is given to the issues surrounding young girls. Young women can do more to empower other girls.
What do you do for fun?
I love to hang out with my family, friends and my sister. I regularly cook and bake with my mom and sister. I enjoy watching shows like “American Idol,” “Shark Tank” and binge-watching spy shows like “24” and “Jack Ryan.” I surf, travel and enjoy world cuisines.
Aside from family, friends and faith, what are three things you can’t live without?
Tea: I am a tea enthusiast. I have a collection of teas from around the world and also experiment with different herbs to create my blends. At home, you will always find me with a cup of tea in my hand.
Fresh fruits and vegetables: I am a foodie, so I cannot live without my daily dosage of a variety of fruits and vegetables.
My planner and my laptop: I am like fish out of the water if I do not have the information I need immediately.
Thank you so much, Shreya, for your commitment to young women and the good work you are doing! Vote for Shreya to become National Honoree and receive an additional $25,000 for her cause right here.
Photos by Nilaya Sabnis on behalf of L’Oréal Paris.
For more inspiring FACES of the South, click here!