Gia Gupta was born into a family that emphasized exploring diverse perspectives and broadening cultural horizons. But as she grew up, she recognized that not everyone has this same worldview or even the opportunity to cultivate it.
Now, this Cherry Hill, New Jersey, teen paves the way as co-president and co-founder of Little Mentors, a nonprofit that works to foster connections between local and international students through its various events and projects.
Gia has also spearheaded the Teddy Talks initiative as part of Little Mentors, which works to bring the leaders of tomorrow to the leaders of today with speakers like Shark Tank entrepreneurs, Forbes “30 Under 30” innovators, a Holocaust survivor, Broadway actors, New York Times bestselling authors, Emmy Award winners and more.
Read on to find out more about Gia’s passionate work in the space of global citizenship.
Describe your volunteer role.
Right now, the main focus of our organization is empowering students. One of the methods we do that with is Teddy Talks. So I conduct a lot of interviews with leaders who are currently making a difference and whose stories could inspire others to make a difference. I’ve been working a lot on reaching out to these leaders and conducting the interviews, as well as sharing the interviews with our audiences.
I work with the Little Mentors chapter at my local high school to develop events. And outside of the organization, I also work with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, doing a lot of fundraising and working on their Junior Leadership team.
I love talking with people from diverse backgrounds so I’m always trying to carry out the mission statement in my own life – holding conversations with people from various backgrounds and trying to share their stories with as many people as possible.
What inspired you to get started with this initiative?
I’m a triplet, and my dad is from India. When we were in eighth grade, my dad was telling us that when he was a child in India, he would have liked the opportunity to speak with people from diverse backgrounds. A lot of times, where you’re from can become an isolating bubble. And you’re exposed to the perspectives of the people in your community. When those perspectives are monolithic, it can be an echo chamber. It can be hard to expose yourself to new ideas about how the world works, as well as the reality of the diversity of the world.
Given that seed, my siblings and I then began talking to students in India – my dad still had family over there and we were able to contact some schools there. Just starting with the smallest introductory details about their lives, we began realizing that the world was so much broader than us. It made us realize the importance of global citizenship. I had cofounded the initiative, which became a nonprofit, with my siblings. We were still in middle school at the time so we worked on developing a middle school chapter and building a board.
Then, we started running projects and events like book drives, volunteering with the Ronald McDonald House, it was mainly on a local level. Now, we focus on both the local level and the international level. We started doing a lot of calls with students globally, from India, from Mexico and more. After those conversations, we started focusing on Teddy Talks, which is our primary point of focus now.
Why is addressing global citizenship so important in today’s world?
One of the biggest things is that you conform to the ideas of people in your circle. And it’s kind of like confirmation bias. You’re constantly being exposed to that, and then, especially with the rise of new media, you’re allowed to keep exposing yourself to that same information. And when that content is villainizing or harmful to certain groups, you’ll never really hear that other perspective unless you listen.
For instance, we were talking to students from Mexico. We’ve seen a lot of anti-Mexico rhetoric within the United States and it’s escalated over the past few years. Just hearing their side of the story makes you realize how much greater the world is, and it opens your eyes to the people who are labeled in these situations. Seeing people as actual human beings, humanizing the situation, understanding they’re human just like you, helps you realize they have the same complex and nuanced lives as you do.
Share a rewarding story from your volunteer work.
For a Teddy Talks event, we had a Holocaust survivor come and speak to a bunch of students in the area. This took place in our primarily Jewish community, so it was very impactful for everyone to hear her story. She was also talking about the rise of antisemitism today. Just the whole notion of peace and equality, and hearing her tell her story was so impactful.
You can learn about the Holocaust in a textbook or through other forms of media, but hearing it from the actual person was so eye opening. And it was heart breaking, but it really opens your eyes to how these stories really affect people. I think the best way to learn is through another person, so I think hearing that story face –to face was so moving for us.
Why is it important for people to get involved with the causes they care about?
The first step to solving an issue or cause is getting educated about it. Understand it first. Being educated about a topic is one of the most important steps to actually making a difference.
You can use the analogy of the climate crisis. There’s a lot of performative activism, acting just for the sake of acting. Not making much impact. But if you can find a cause you really love – we’re working on global citizenship, for example – if you can find something you align with, not only does it make your work more fulfilling, but you’re making a difference in someone’s life.
A lot of people think change needs to be broad and all encompassing, but in reality, just changing one person’s life can then change someone else’s life they then impact. You just have to think about the question: what’s the legacy you want to leave?
What’s your best advice for people who want to start volunteering?
Start by addressing what’s holding you back. A lot of people say they don’t have time for volunteering. But the truth is we all have the same 24 hours in a day. It’s all a matter of what you want to prioritize.
Make sure you understand your own privilege. Then, once you recognize that, you can reconcile it through volunteering. Volunteering is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It just makes you realize that the world is greater than you. The sooner you can recognize that, the sooner your life will be changed.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Gia? Find local volunteer opportunities.