Mantha Earns National Honor Away from Volleyball

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | Nov. 14, 2018, 4:40 p.m. (ET)

Shreya Mantha directing a workshop for Foundation For Girls
Shreya Mantha (left), 17, helps direct a workshop as part of the Foundation For Girls, a non-profit she established in 2014. Four years later, her work has been recognized nationally as she is a 2018 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honoree

Shreya Mantha is both a 17-year-old volleyball player and community leader from Charlotte, N.C., where she has made a major impact in her hometown at a young age.

Mantha was recently named a 2018 L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth honoree for her work with Foundation For Girls, a youth-led, non-profit organization that she founded in December 2014 and serves as its CEO. She works with trafficking survivors, teen moms, the homeless, refugees and other at-risk girls to give them hope, aspiration and scaffolding so that they can take charge of their futures.

Mantha partners with local community organizations, students and professionals to coach girls in shelters, crisis centers and afterschool program. She gives these at-risk girls access to coaches and tools they need to realize their full potential, find their passions and become strong, confident and self-reliant women. Foundation for Girls offers programs in digital literacy, financial wellness, leadership, and health and wellbeing.

“Being a Women of Worth means having a global platform to influence social change by continuing to nurture the leader in every girl and ensuring that girls and youth in crisis are empowered leaders with a healthy mind, body and spirit,” Mantha said regarding her selection for the prestigious honor.

Shreya Mantha helping to layout the future of Charlotte youthWhat started out as helping two teenagers earn their GED diplomas and a promise to her grandmother to continue supporting underprivileged girls, Mantha has developed her foundation that has reached 1,771 girls and youth since inception. The foundation, now with 45 volunteers and 12 youth ambassadors in its fourth year of operation, has conducted nearly 305 workshops and invested over 15,000 hours in changing the life trajectory of girls in crisis in the Charlotte community.

Mantha said “creating a youth-led community of caring coaches who are making a tangible difference in the lives of girls in crisis,” is among her proudest accomplishments. She enjoys the aspect of “high school students working together with professionals is a unique approach to work together to address community issues.”

Mantha and the Foundation For Girls have enjoyed many success stories, but her favorites go back to watching these at-risk girls’ journey from dependence to independence.

“There have been many proud accomplishments,” Mantha said. “It is difficult to pick one and identify our most impressive accomplishment. I think it is the life-changing stories that we hear on a daily basis that makes us all so proud. When we see a girl that we have worked with have a whole different level of self-worth and confidence, that is what makes the most difference. The thought that someone genuinely cares and gives them hope and aspiration that gets ignited is what makes them succeed on this journey from dependence to independence. This shows us that our work is making a difference and having a real-life impact. These girls are all part of the Foundation For Girls family.”

As one of the 10 honorees for the Women of Worth, Mantha earned a $10,000 grant for Foundation For Girls. If selected as the national honoree through a public vote, Foundation For Girls will receive and additional $25,000 grant for her work in the community. She is competing against a group of Women of Worth finalists that have an average of 41.2 years.

Mantha said it would be a “tremendous honor” to be selected the Women of Worth National Honoree as it gives her foundation additional resources to expand work.

“I am so grateful to have received this award and to be joining an extraordinary group of women from across the country,” Mantha said on just being a top 10 finalist for the award.

Related: How Foundation For Girls Formed under Mantha’s Direction

Mantha’s team concept within her foundation is reflective of her own athletic career. She has played volleyball since fifth grade after switching from being a competitive swimmer for eight years. She has played defensive specialist for two Charlotte area clubs (Carolina Juniors Volleyball and Carolina Union Volleyball Club) and for the Providence Day School’s varsity team.

“I felt swimming is more of an individual sport,” Mantha said. “After I was introduced to volleyball by a friend, I fell in love with every aspect of the game. I enjoy volleyball as a team sport and the interaction that takes place between teammates both on and off the court. Volleyball brought out a different side of me and made me very vocal on the court. I found my voice through volleyball. Playing with peers from other high schools was invigorating. We all brought out the best in each other.”

Following years of diving on the court, Mantha is taking a break from volleyball due to a repetitive stress neck injury. But volleyball has not gone completely away as she has dived into the sport in a different area.

Now Mantha is using those same traits to impact the volleyball community across the nation. Her work with Foundation For Girls caught the attention of USA Volleyball Board of Directors Chair Lori Okimura three years ago. In March of 2016, Okimura was at the Big South Qualifier where Mantha was being recognized for the event’s “For the Win” Award recognizing her efforts with her foundation. Shortly thereafter, Okimura invited Mantha to serve on the Board’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee where she is the young person to ever serve on a USA Volleyball Board-level committee.

“As the youngest member of the committee, Shreya’s perspective has been invaluable,” said Kenneth Shropshire, an independent director on USA Volleyball’s Board and chair of its Diversity & Inclusion committee. “She brings that insightful perspective. She has also served as the scribe for our conference calls. That often thankless task has been delivered at the highest level.”

“I miss playing and competing with my team,” Mantha said. “But, I am so grateful and fortunate to have met Ms. Lori Okimura and to have continued my love and passion for volleyball as the youngest member and secretary for the USAV Diversity and Inclusion Committee.”

Mantha said her own background in club volleyball has helped Foundation For Girls take shape.

“It gave me an opportunity to bring awareness about the issues related to girls in crisis in our communities and to encourage the players at my club to engage and support,” Mantha said. “Some of the volleyball parents have been engaged for the last several years. I have volunteers, youth ambassadors and professionals who have been collaborating to lead workshops and change the life trajectory of girls in crisis.”

Shreya Mantha posing with youth participating in Foundation For GirlsMantha feels the volleyball community in Charlotte where she resides and across the country is an ideal platform to bring awareness to the issues young girls face.

“Given that we all are one big volleyball family, the volleyball community can bring awareness to the problems that girls in crisis are facing in our communities,” Mantha said. “It is shocking that there are so many teen moms, foster care victims, homeless girls, and refugees who do not have access to the support structure we all have as players. We are all very fortunate and should be thankful for everything we have in our lives. Many of the girls our age are taking care of a child, have no high-school education, have to fend for themselves, and have no place to call home.

“I would love to work with the entire USA Volleyball community to change the life trajectory of girls in crisis, expand Foundation For Girls and open chapters in all states. Together we all can bring about real changes in many lives.”

Mantha said she is open to clubs contacting her on starting a local chapter and provide programming support in their communities.

“Giving back to the community and helping girls will offer another great way for teams to bond while giving back to communities,” Mantha said. “Think of how much money we all spend at every volleyball event in a year. If we set aside a dollar a player from every volleyball event, in a year, we could make real change in the lives of many young girls.”

Mantha’s advice to others who want to make change in their community is simple – start small and think long range.

“We can all make an impact, and no one is ever too young to start making a difference in their community,” Mantha said. “To make a change, first get to know your community and its needs, begin now and begin small. Think of long-term impact. You have the power to make an impact if you put your mind to it and make a consistent effort. Build a team, collaborate with other stakeholders and drive change. Believe in yourself. It is easy to handout things but more difficult to invest time and share time with girls who do not have families.”

If selected as the National Honoree and receiving the $25,000 grant for Foundation For Girls that goes with it, Mantha said her foundation will have the opportunity to help over 50 additional girls to go through her program.

“If we were to win an additional $25,000, we will be able to help an additional 52 girls to have access to our programs and a network of ‘caring coaches’ so that they can take charge of their lives and get on the path to independence,” Mantha said.

Mantha has a long-range plan for Foundation For Girls where it goes beyond Charlotte. The foundation is well on its way to exceeding its goal of reaching 2,600 girls by 2020, a goal Mantha set in 2014.

“We are in the midst of planning for Foundation For Girls’ growth and expansion beyond Charlotte,” Mantha said. “We have already expanded into the Triangle area (Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill, North Carolina) and will be opening up chapters in Chile and India in 2019!”

Voting for Women of Worth

The public is invited to vote for the Women of Worth national honoree through Nov. 30. To vote, click here. The 2018 Women of Worth National Honoree will be announced on Dec. 5 in New York City.

Q&A with Shreya

How do you balance school work, your Foundation, volleyball and just having fun like any other teenager?

“Every day I strive to maintain balance, but it is very hard. I am fortunate to have a strong team, program leaders, advisors, and board of directors.

“At school and home, I have a very supportive environment. My work would not have been possible without the many people, who have supported me on this journey.

“I got better at learning to balance and juggle school, going to practice, traveling to tournaments, planning for a digital literacy workshop, preparing for an event or presenting to a corporation. I enjoy teaching and building relationships with the girls. There is a pure joy and magic in giving. Every time I think about the girls we are working with, it pushes me to do more."

Do you foresee volleyball being a part of life during college and beyond? Do you plan to play in college?

“Volleyball is a big part of my life and always will be. I have the best memories, friends and coaches. I plan to continue my love and passion for volleyball by playing on my collegiate club team.”

Have you committed to a particular college yet, and possibly a major?

“I have not committed to playing college volleyball. But, I plan to play club volleyball in college. I plan to pursue interdisciplinary studies in Computer Science, Engineering or a quantitative field coupled with Business or Economics.”