Schreyer Scholar Neha Gupta to talk about Empower Orphans on national talk show

Penn State biology student Neha Gupta has helped raise more than $2.6 million through her charitable organization, Empower Orphans. Credit: Michelle Bixby / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Neha Gupta started Empower Orphans, a charitable organization that seeks to help orphans and at-risk children around the world develop self-sufficiency, when she was 9 years old.

Nine years later, when she became a Penn State student, she set out to find student peers who shared her desire to help children.

“It really wasn’t hard to find them,” she said. “I received an overwhelming number of responses from people.”

Today, the Penn State chapter of Empower Orphans has an executive membership of 14 and roughly four dozen more students in the general body of the organization, and Gupta is working to help establish similar student chapters at universities nationwide. Those efforts, as well as her philanthropic spirit, have captured the attention of "Harry," a syndicated talk show hosted by Harry Connick Jr., which will film a segment with Gupta in its New York studio today (Dec. 14) for an episode scheduled to air next April.

Originally, the theme of the segment was women’s empowerment, Gupta said, but "Harry" producers “told me my eyes lit up when I started talking about Penn State and the students here and the work that they do. They really wanted to shift the focus toward a community angle and the work that’s being done at Penn State with these kids, or even on a global scale in India.”

Locally, the Penn State chapter of Empower Orphans has created a mentorship program for at-risk children, taken children in foster care to Penn State sporting events, and engineered toy drives for them. The chapter also has talked to elementary school children about the importance of service. 

On a global scale, the chapter is currently supporting three orphans in Haiti, Gupta said, and organizing a trip to an orphanage in Uganda.

“We’re going to focus on helping to support them not only emotionally and being mentors for them,” said Gupta, a Schreyer Honors Scholar majoring in biology, “but also providing them with entrepreneurial skills.”

Gupta helps elect a new executive board for the chapter each year, and wants that board to feel empowered “to run this on their own,” but attends each meeting and gives regular updates on what the parent organization has been doing, and leads discussion on various global topics, such as child labor. 

Empower Orphans has helped an estimated 30,000 children and raised more than $2.6 million in donations. Gupta’s efforts with the organization have earned her several major accolades, including the 2014 International Children’s Peace Prize, the 2011 World of Children Award, the President’s Volunteer Service Award, the Congressional Award, and the national Prudential Spirit of Community award.

Since she was 11 years old, Gupta has been captivated by the idea of the ripple effect — people inspiring others to inspire and widening the reach of an idea or an endeavor.

She has been inspired by the way her fellow students have taken up her cause and made it their own. 

“I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to be on the show, not really for myself but to be able to share the mission even more and get to brag about all of these Penn State students who are doing such incredible work,” Gupta said. “I’m really excited to talk about them.”

Last Updated January 11, 2018