Yardley teen to receive World of Children award

Empower Orphans, the group begun by Neha Gupta, has positively affected more than 10,000 young people.
Empower Orphans, the group begun by Neha Gupta, has positively affected more than 10,000 young people.
Posted: October 26, 2011

'Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children," George Bernard Shaw reportedly said.

The late Irish playwright captures a popular contradiction in his statement. What a lovely time childhood can be, freed of the pressures of adulthood - and how young people squander it.

Why do kids get such a bad rap - and is it justified?

"Kids have always had a bum rap," said Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center. "Most adults forget how stupid we were as teens."

 Another factor in young people's sullied reputation is the media, said Sara Kinsman, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"In general in the media, we tend to hear more negative things than positive things," she said. "The really wonderful things they do day to day, it takes a lot for that to come to the forefront."

Which brings us to 15-year-old Neha Gupta of Yardley, whose heroics are in the spotlight. Next Wednesday, she will be honored in New York as one of seven recipients of the 2011 World of Children Awards, a kind of Nobel Prize for those who aid youngsters.

Gupta began by volunteering at orphanages in India when she went with her family to visit her grandfather. It was a family tradition to celebrate birthdays by helping others.

"They would always say it's not only important to get but to give," said Gupta, now a sophomore at Pennsbury High School.

One day at the orphanage about five years ago, she met a sullen girl sitting alone. When it was mealtime, Gupta gave the girl yogurt and rice, food Gupta took for granted in the United States.

"She was so happy," Gupta recalled. "She hugged me and thanked me."

Gupta became friends with the girl, and saw how she shared a small room with about 10 others and slept on a sheet on the floor. When Gupta learned that the orphans would have to leave even that meager shelter after turning 16, she decided to help.

She went home to Yardley and, with her friends, held a garage sale that raised $700. The money bought clothing, blankets, and books in India.

Gupta collected more money by turning paintings the orphans made into greeting cards. In 2008, she established a nonprofit group called Empower Orphans. Her parents supported her all along the way.

Donations came from throughout the Philadelphia region, from India, and from grants. She expanded her efforts, too, helping disadvantaged children elsewhere in India and at Philadelphia's Feltonville Intermediate School, a public school where Gupta's group has donated clothing and is helping to create a library.

The World of Children website said, "Neha's efforts have already positively impacted the lives of more than 10,000 children in India and the United States by opening multiple libraries, computer labs, and sewing centers."

She is typical of what children can do, said former businessman Harry Leibowitz, 70, the California resident who began the World of Children Awards in 1998 after finding no prize for adults and youngsters "who devote themselves selflessly to children everyday." Winners can receive from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on their project, and get other support for their efforts.

If only more children were noticed for their good deeds.

So maybe it's not George Bernard Shaw who should be quoted, but fictional character Stan Smith of the animated TV show American Dad! - with a correction to the first part of the statement.

"It's embarrassing when children don't adhere to stereotypes."

Not embarrassing, Stan, inspiring.

Contact staff writer Carolyn Davis at 215-854-4214, cdavis@phillynews.com, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.


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