Senior Kevin Cao distinctly remembers as a tutor at Belvedere Elementary School during his freshman year, third grader Jorge Lopez sitting alone amid the chaotic scene of his classroom. He was staring at his desk with a look of obvious frustration, fighting back tears.
“He was falling behind in school and his parents, lacking a grasp on the English language, were unable to help with his homework,” Cao said.
Wanting to make a difference, Cao, along with senior Kartik Gupta and senior Abrar Omeish from Robinson Secondary School, initiated an organization, Growth and Inspiration through Volunteering and Education (GIVE) that allows students to give back to their community by volunteering and inspiring other local elementary school students. It is a completely student-run organization that provides free two-hour tutoring sessions in public locations in Fairfax and Loudon counties for students who need extra help but can’t necessarily afford it.
“These students were simply not being offered enough academic support and had little encouragement or motivation. We decided we had to help them, and the best way to do so was making a non-profit organization,” Gupta said. “This would make a long-term, sustainable impact on the community while involving and inspiring young children and teenagers alike.”
The organization started in 2010 with only 20 tutors and 50 students seeking their services. Now, their core team of administrators has 20 students, and their tutors are helping over 1,000 children.
“I needed help in math, and they taught me different ways to solve problems. It’s going pretty well on tests and homework. I get more A’s on them, and my homework is easier,” said Haroon Sikandar, a sixth grader at Newington Forest Elementary School.
Their services reach all over Fairfax and Loudoun counties, from Centreville to Alexandria. They currently have locations in Annandale, Falls Church, Reston, Centreville, Herndon, Springfield, Sterling and Alexandria.
GIVE recruits high-achieving and motivated tutors through National Honor Societies across Northern Virginia. “I used to think this was for community hours, but now I know that I have to come every week since these students depend on me,” said sophomore Simran Batra from Lee High School.
The organization has worked towards their mission of promoting the leadership of youth and improving the quality of life in their communities through various projects such as publishing a children’s book that promotes cultural and religious tolerance and awareness of bullying titled, “Being Different is What Makes Us Special!” The book was written by one of the directors of GIVE, senior Avanti Shirke.
“Seeing how well received the book was in Fairfax County was a really good feeling because it made me feel like I was making a difference,” Shirke said.
GIVE has donated over $4,000 worth of AP and SAT prep books to high school students across the D.C. metropolitan area who may not be able to afford these study materials.
“GIVE helps to promote leadership and education in youth through many ways besides tutoring,” Gupta said. “Last summer, I ran a series of STEM workshops for disadvantaged youth to help combat summer brain-drain. The program was called RecQuest and will be run again this summer as well.”
These students, as well as their parents, are able to see the progress they make while participating in GIVE. Gupta remembers a distressed mother coming up to him at the beginning of the year, crying, because her son was about to flunk out of the sixth grade.
“At the end of the year I knew that all my effort had been worth it when, in place of the distressed mother in October, I saw a proud and beaming mother stride confidently into the center to thank me for her son’s success,” Gupta said.
As Cao, Gupta and Omeish will be graduating next year, they hope the future directors of GIVE will continue to facilitate learning and inspire students to become leaders of their communities.
“I started GIVE with the intention of changing the world around me. Little did I know that GIVE would end up changing me,” Gupta said.