When Shreyaa Venkat (NHS ’24) founded NEST4US, a nonprofit that aims to provide accessible volunteer opportunities to interested participants, in 2016, she knew she wanted people to realize that acts of service can be part of their everyday lives.
Now, while Venkat balances studying and joining clubs on campus, she continues to oversee her organization’s operations, ranging from partnerships with food banks to providing tutoring opportunities to interested students worldwide.
Listen to The Hoya’s conversation with Venkat to learn more about NEST4US and how Venkat tries to make acts of service part of her own daily life.
MR: The other day I hopped on a Zoom meeting with a fellow sophomore student, Shreyaa Venkat (NHS ’24). Whilst I was on campus, Shreyaa sat in her office at home in Virginia as she was preparing to go to New York, where she will spend the rest of the week, as she has been nominated for an inaugural global student prize of which she is a top 50 finalist. Shreyaa is currently studying at the Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies with a major in global health.
SV: Since I was in elementary school, middle school, high school, right, I have always been super interested in the fields of STEM, and obviously service. Those two were really big parts of my childhood growing up. And so eventually, my career interests kind of started shifting from that narrow clinical focus. As I got into global health and got to go to all these classes, and then of course, with that service aspect, go out in the world and see, these are all the problems in the world, and there are so many ways that I can help, that’s kind of what drew me to a more broader perspective of health.
MR: Let’s take a second to see how Shreyaa got here. Alongside her younger sister Esha, Shreyaa is the co-founder of NEST4US, a nonprofit organization founded to provide volunteer opportunities for participants interested in serving their individual communities. NEST4US partners with organizations worldwide, from tutoring services to food banks, in order to connect individuals interested in volunteering with groups that most need their help. The two sisters founded this organization five years ago when Shreyaa was only 13 years old and Esha was 10. Shreyaa has been volunteering since she was a child; hence, it was this exposure to community service at such a young age that inspired NEST4US.
SV: So we kind of got that exposure early on, like, oh, this is fun, this is exciting, and I want to keep doing it. And if it’s fun to meet new people. That’s kind of like where we got the idea of “Oh, service is actually really fun.” And we wanted to include other people into the same fun experience. We wanted to offer opportunities for people and other families, especially, because we knew how important it was to our own family. And so that’s one of the main reasons why my sister and I, we co-founded NEST4US.
MR: Over the last five years, NEST4US’s volunteer families have grown to over 2,000 people of all ages and backgrounds who altogether have contributed over $1 million in value of volunteer hours. NEST4US is based upon five core programs: sustainability, equality, education, leadership and kindness. Through her organization, Shreyaa has been able to impact tens of thousands of people globally, in over 20 countries across six continents.
SV: It’s all because of our community support and just being able to connect with so many incredible organizations, incredible young changemakers and youth leadership, such a huge value of ours, and so empowering and uplifting youth, especially youth of color worldwide, is such an important value for us. And it’s something that we always try to spread through our work. That and kindness. Kindness is a very core value of NEST4US — spreading kindness because it’s so simple to do.
MR: Being a sophomore at Georgetown myself, time management is one of my greatest struggles. I mean, I can hardly hand in my homework on time. Therefore, I was itching to ask Shreyaa how on earth she balances her time between school, friends and running her organization.
SV: So I always like to use the scenario of like, okay, in your schedule you make time to hang out with friends, go to the movies, go out for dinner, things like that, right? You block out time and your schedules for these things that you really enjoy doing. So why can’t you do the same thing with service? It’s super easy, it’s super fun. It doesn’t take that much time, it doesn’t take that much resources at all. And so that’s what I always try to say. It’s like you don’t have to have the time to give back. You should make the time if you’re passionate about it.
MR: One of Shreyaa’s main points is that there’s often a misconception that contributing acts of service has to be a grand gesture, when really implementing service into your daily life is much easier than it may seem.
SV: There are a billion ways that you can help out in your community. And it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, always random acts of kindness and going around in your community, just trying to make people smile, just make people’s days. Because you might not realize what other people are going through, but you take the initiative to go do something extra special for them that could only take 30 seconds. And you might feel, ‘Oh, that’s just 30 seconds out of my day, like what is that going to do for them?’ but they can change their entire day or life for the better.
MR: Whilst NEST4US has developed tremendously over the last five years, Shreyaa has even bigger dreams for the future. While currently studying at Georgetown, she hopes to connect with different Georgetown organizations and student clubs and bring NEST4US onto campus, whether this be through doing a large-scale, schoolwide service project or through simply collaborating with different students.
SV: We live in D.C., right, that campus is right in the middle of D.C., where there’s so many people in need. And so there’s so much room for us to be able to spread that love and kindness. And so that’s something that I’m really looking forward to.
MR: As mentioned earlier, Shreyaa has been selected as a student recipient of the 2021 Global Student Prize, an inaugural award for students granted by a partnership between Chegg, an educational technology company that provides textbooks and online tutoring to students, and the Varkey Foundation, an international organization that aims to improve education for underprivileged children globally. Their joint prize awards $100,000 to students recognized for work impacting the learning experiences of their peers.
SV: It allows me to kind of have that platform to elevate the voices of students like me, and especially empower other students and other women, young women of color, who are looking to take action in the communities kind of to step up and take social action by showing people that everyone regardless of age, or background, or where they come from, has the power to make a meaningful difference in their own special ways. And so I’m really excited to be part of this global community of changemakers on kind of advanced progress on solutions towards societal issues, and just kind of give youth a voice in the social action world.
MR: Whether big or small, Shreyaa encourages students to spread acts of kindness and service throughout the community on a daily basis.
SV: I mean, whatever you can imagine would make you smile or make someone that you love smile, you reciprocate that to your community, and that itself is an act of kindness. It can be something as simple as complimenting someone, writing kind notes to your teachers, to your friends. It can be going out and serving meals at a homeless shelter, it can be any of those and more.
MR: Before we wrap up today’s episode, Shreyaa would like to leave you with one last piece.
SV: Don’t make kindness or giving back a one-time action, make it a lifestyle. So kind of get into the habit of doing it every day, two times a week, whenever or however many times you want to do it. Because trust me, you’ll realize that you’re not only going to be making other people’s lives so much more better, but you’re going to be making yourself feel so much more happier. You’re going to feel so proud about the amazing work that you’re doing in the community.
MR: Thank you for listening and I hope you’ll tune in for more next week. This podcast was recorded, edited and produced by Mia Rasamny, and a special thanks to Shreyaa Venkat for taking the time to speak with The Hoya.