A Wichita teen who was moved after seeing poverty in India as a child has received statewide recognition for his work to raise hunger awareness and promote volunteerism among his peers.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards named Saajan Bhakta, 17, a top Kansas youth volunteer for co-founding PovSolve Inc., a local nonprofit that helps ease poverty in Wichita and India. The organization, operated largely by high school volunteers, ended its first year in June with more than $8,000 in donations to feed people in India and homeless Kansans.
To date, Bhakta said, PovSolve has raised $10,000.
“We’re off to a great start,” said Bhakta, who worked for years with his parents, Harshad and Rajani Bhakta, to iron out details and gain community support after witnessing poverty first-hand at age 8. He is currently PovSolve’s president.
“I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work,” he said. “The fact that we kept pushing made it happen.”
Bhakta shares the statewide volunteerism honor with Grace Schram, an eighth-grade student from Leawood, who raised more than $20,000 to build fish ponds in Africa and an orphanage in Haiti. Both won a $1,000 scholarship and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in May, where they will compete against 100 other students to be among 10 named America’s top youth volunteers. Winners will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a $5,000 donation to a charity of their choice.
The award program — in its 17th year — is a partnership between Prudential Financial and the National Association of Secondary School Principals to recognize outstanding teen volunteers. Bhakta was nominated for the award by Northwest High School, according to Danea Cramer, the school’s college career coordinator.
“He’s just a top-notch young man,” she said. “He’s phenomenal, always positive (and) works so hard.
“The students are more involved because of his efforts.”
In his latest call to action, Bhakta is collecting Indian-style clothing, which he plans to ship to poor families in India. He is also actively planning blood and bone marrow drives in Wichita, and volunteers for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Special Olympics Kansas, Via Christi Health Systems, the American Red Cross and other school groups. He is one of 13 members nationally chosen to serve on the Red Cross’ National Youth Council.
Bhakta plans to study psychology, Spanish and journalism this fall at Wichita State University. His ultimate goal, he said, is to be an American emergency room doctor, open and oversee a hospital overseas, and work as a chief medical correspondent for a national news outlet — simultaneously.
“I’m very goal oriented, and I think that anything I want to achieve is possible.”
For more information about PovSolve, go to www.wix.com/povsolve/povsolve.