From Passion to Service: a Teen’s Tale

Daily Point of Light # 7463 Jan 10, 2023

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Kavya Sriram. Read her story and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light. 

Kavya comes from a family of immigrants hailing from India. One thing the family has always emphasized is the value of education and helping people attain their educational goals. Kavya’s maternal grandma always says, “Money and looks will fade; knowledge is forever.”  

After becoming interested in Spanish language and culture at an early age, Kavya realized many Hispanic families in her area were struggling with language barriers, lack of social and economic resources and systemic inequities that put up barriers to their community as well as other communities of color. Kavya’s love of Spanish and her desire to help others inspired Kavya to get involved with the local Hispanic community through service.  

For more than four years, Kavya has been volunteering as an ESL (English as a Second Language) educator with a Hispanic nonprofit called El Centro Hispano. The center’s education department serves 10,000 Hispanic families annually.   

What inspires you to volunteer? 

There’s something very gratifying about being able to directly see the impacts of your efforts. This pushes me to contribute to my communities. In addition, I love learning Spanish and wanted to use this passion to benefit others. Finally, my family, who is very civic-minded, inspires me to stay engaged within my community.  

Describe your volunteer role with El Centro Hispano. 

I’ve been involved with my role for nearly four years.  

I create and teach complete syllabi through 8-10 week-long classes, based on English grammar, vocabulary, and other helpful topics to benefit my students. I helped grow the program to over 500+ annual students in Level A, B, and Intermediate ESL classes.

Kavya pictured with El Pueblo NC, after creating and distributing literacy kits to benefit Hispanic youth./Courtesy Kavya Sriram

I launched several new state-wide programs for El Centro after seeing the unique needs of my students. These include several 10-week classes teaching community resources, U.S. government, and navigating citizenship. I also host workshops from state department speakers, including Medicaid and Child development departments. 

I work to train other volunteers, attend weekly meetings, have led fundraisers raising thousands of dollars for El Centro Hispano and won grants. 

I also tutor students weekly, ranging from second grade to high school. 

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work? 

I love seeing the impacts my teaching has on my students, especially their new confidence in the English language or other academic subjects. Nearly all of my students are immigrants. I understand how living in a foreign country and not knowing the language can be extremely difficult. As well, many systemic barriers and the pandemic worsened social and economic conditions for many communities of color, especially Hispanic communities. By being able to connect with each student and modify the curriculum to fit their needs, I am able to propel them to use English to succeed. This is a heartwarming reward for my work. 

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer? 

I’ve learned you may need to take several approaches before you find the one that yields the most impactful results. For example, when I first started working with El Centro Hispano, many of the courses we taught had topics that wouldn’t actually benefit my students who often needed English to communicate with employers, doctors and people they spoke to often. I realized I could create newer courses and modify the curriculum to better suit their needs. In addition, I’ve learned it’s very important to listen to the people we work with. By hearing their stories and putting ourselves in their shoes, we can adapt the way we support them.  

Are there any future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about? 

Yes! We are launching several courses in January, serving beginner, middle and advanced ESL learners. In addition, I’m hoping to continue my workshops; this time, hosting speakers from labor and immigration departments to help students who need help in those areas. My community has given so much to my family and others to help us grow to our full potential, so by giving back, we continue the cycle of helping.  

Why do you think it’s important for others to get involved?   

Getting involved is acknowledging the stories that shape our communities. By taking the time to listen to those who need help, we benefit the communities that have shaped us. I’ve realized that even if your acts of service seem simple, they are much more meaningful than you may imagine.  

What do you want people to learn from your story? 

I want people to understand the most important thing is picking a cause you are passionate about and sticking with it — being consistent and adapting to your community’s needs over time leads to greater results. Volunteering is incredibly rewarding, so finding your niche is the best way to go.  

I hope to take my passion for Spanish and service into college and beyond. I hope to pursue a major in Hispanic Studies/Spanish to better understand Hispanic language and culture and the economic inequality many Hispanic communities face. My career goal is to work in nonprofit management, so I can advocate for equitable outcomes long-term.  

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Kavya? Find local volunteer opportunities.  

Jarmila Gorman