Students serve as ‘Little Mentors’ at home and abroad

Cherry Hill-based nonprofit befriends, educates and connects with international learners.

Armaan Gupta, Karina Gupta, left of the banner and Gia Gupta stand among students at a school in New Delhi, India. Little Mentors has contacted this school before over live-interface subsequently leading to the trip.

There’s often an unspoken connection that comes when speaking to someone your own age. While adults may know more, sometimes it takes a kid to inspire and relate to another kid. 

That’s the premise behind the Cherry Hill-based nonprofit, Little Mentors.  Founded two years ago and run entirely by kids, the 501c3 nonprofit works to befriend, educate and connect with both local and international students. Cherry Hill High School East rising freshmen Asher Boiskin, Jeremy Raden, Jesse Sklar, Armaan Gupta, Karina Gupta, Gina Liu (the sole rising sophomore) and Gia Gupta are advisory board members for the nonprofit, founded by the Guptas, along with Suganya, Athira and Avishai Kasthuri.

Armaan Gupta said the group was founded based on the idea of empowering kids by getting to know them better. They discussed the idea of a modern-day pen pal as a means of connecting with international students and exchanging information about each other’s cultures and ideas.

Armaan’s father connected the group with the Rachna Montessori School in India, and not long after, they were holding virtual meetings with students across the globe.

Gia Gupta said after that work began, the nonprofit formed an advisory board and approached their vice-principal at Rosa International Middle School about running a chapter of Little Mentors at the middle school. Shortly thereafter, a small group was meeting after school to brainstorm ways they could empower and connect with kids their age.

Since then, Little Mentors has expanded its reach and joined forces with schools in Antigua, Brazil and Africa. Armaan said at first, the group  thought the relationship might be one-sided, with Little Mentors teaching international students about life in America, but they quickly realized the relationship was a mutual learning experience with the mentors giving back as much as they gave. 

In addition to video calls, Little Mentors members make videos showcasing their talents. The videos are created by kids on both ends, with the goal of teaching each other a little more about their lives. 

But their efforts aren’t limited to international connections: The group has also been hard at work in the area. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic,  mentors partnered with the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, where they spent the night playing bingo and gave its students art supplies.

Armaan said the non-profit isn’t just focused on teaching or giving supplies to children. He said while those things are important, there’s no direct relationship there. When they left the Ronald McDonald house, he added, the children had smiles on their faces and the mentors did too; that’s the  takeaway of their work in his eyes.

The group has also donated books to local charities, visited an orphanage in Costa Rica and held fundraising events at local restaurants.  

“We always want to make sure everything we’re doing is based off the mission statement — empowering and motivating one friend at a time,” Gia said. “Before we do an event, we’re making sure everything fits into this.”

Advisory board member Jesse Sklar said students are under stress and experiencing intense sadness at higher rates than ever before. Now, more than ever, it’s important for students to reach out and connect with one another,  he added.

In light of the pandemic, Little Mentors are attempting to use technology for the purpose of tailoring their programs to an electronic format. They can’t visit the Ronald McDonald House without putting the children there at risk, so they’re brainstorming ways to send the kids there supplies and to hold some sort of virtual event.

“We’re trying to use old methods, but convert them to something that will work during the virus,” Sklar noted.

As of now, the group has a chapter at Rosa and plans to start one at Cherry Hill High School East in the coming year. The goal is to continue expanding throughout Cherry Hill schools and potentially beyond. 

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