18 Under 18: Neha Gupta

Tennis player founded nonprofit that raised $325,000 for neglected children

Updated: February 29, 2012, 12:31 AM ET
By Mike Cullity | ESPNHS GIRL Magazine

ESPNHS honors 18 male and 18 female teen athletes who are doing remarkable things on the field, in the classroom and in their communities. Click here to read about each of them.

Although Neha Gupta enjoys serving aces, her passion is serving others.

When she's not studying or practicing with the tennis team at Pennsbury (Fairless Hills, Pa.), the 15-year-old sophomore helps orphans and underprivileged kids. Founder of a nonprofit organization called Empower Orphans, Gupta seeks to improve the lives of marginalized children in India and the United States. Since 2006, she has raised $325,000 in cash and in-kind donations for the cause.

Gupta's mission grew out of her annual childhood visits to her parents' native India. Her family celebrated birthdays by delivering gifts to children at an orphanage there, and on one visit a girl about Gupta's age offered the family a tour.

Then 9, Gupta saw the dirty floor on which the girl slept and realized the hardships her peer would face without an education. "It was quite upsetting to me," she said. "I used to take education for granted, waking up every day and saying, 'I don't want to go to school today.' But that's really changed for me."

Upon returning home, Gupta told her parents, Vikas and Amruta, that she wanted to help the orphans. She gathered her toys and organized a neighborhood garage sale that netted $700. A few years later, she formally launched Empower Orphans with her parents' help.

Striving to improve education and health care for orphans and underprivileged youth in India and Pennsylvania, the volunteer-run organization has established libraries, launched computer labs and a science center, provided clean drinking water to an Indian village and sponsored eye and dental clinics. It also donates food, clothing and school supplies to orphans.

Despite having asthma and chronic gastrointestinal and circulatory disorders, Gupta still travels to India annually. And even though she often becomes ill while she's there, she wouldn't trade witnessing the smiles of children her organization helps.

"It's truly an amazing feeling," she says. "Every time I go, the kids are so excited to see me."

Gupta's work garnered her a 2011 World of Children Award, an honor her father describes as "the Nobel Prize for global child advocacy." And it has earned her respect from classmates such as Katie Denshaw, who recently profiled Gupta for Pennsbury High's newspaper.

"Here's this girl who's pretty close to what I'm like, the same age and the same classes, and she's already done so much with her life and helped so many people," Denshaw says. "It's just mind-boggling to me."