From the age of five, Spokane’s Sindhu Surapaneni has posted annual art tutorials on her birthday as a tradition. Each year, she selected a different craft to learn and then taught it through her YouTube channel. “I’ve always liked how teaching things helps me get better at it,” said Surapaneni. In the same early years, Surapaneni recalls driving through downtown Spokane, shutting her eyes to avoid the sadness of witnessing homelessness. “I realized closing my eyes didn’t make the problem go away,” she recalls. “I realized I could help them.”

Spokane's Sindhu Surapaneni
$22,000.00 has been donated by Sindhu Surapaneni to local Spokane non-profit organizations so far. Photo courtesy: Sindhu Surapaneni

Spokane’s Young Volunteer Sindhu Surapaneni

Surapaneni’s activism in the world of volunteerism was officially launched during the pandemic when she was only 11 years old. In 2020, over 500 of her art classes were offered to the public free of charge. Seeing people excited about connecting with each other through creativity, she realized her teachings had a chance to do greater good in the Spokane community. Surapaneni began offering a six-week online summer art camp” where 560 kids gathered weekly via Zoom for only ten dollars.

A true philanthropist, the entirety of the earnings Surapaneni has raised goes directly to charity. With classes, original artworks, and custom-commissioned portraits, $22,000 has been donated to diverse organizations so far. Surapaneni sought non-profits specializing in supporting people experiencing homelessness, foster youth, and low-income families. Giving Back Packs, founded by Rick Clark, and Blessings & Beyond (formerly Blessings Under the Bridge) are the primary Spokane-based non-profits Surapaneni supports through her generous contributions. “Rick Clark also has a really inspiring story about a big life change in support of the community,” noted Surapaneni.

Spokane's Sindhu Surapaneni
Surapaneni enjoys choreographing Bollywood dances, teaching about her culture, and increasing diversity and inclusion with the Indian Youth Club of Spokane. Photo courtesy: Sindhu Surapaneni

Sindhu Surapaneni is Honored With Awards and TED Talks

Nominated by TANA (Telugu Association of North America) for her efforts working with them in teaching art camps, Surapaneni received the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2022 and 2023. Upon receiving this award, Selkirk Middle School, where she was Student Body President at age 14, honored her with a special ceremony in front of her peers. Using her craft in support of others has truly inspired her, and she’s excited to use her message to encourage others to do the same.

Catching the public eye, Surapaneni was invited at 13 for her first TEDx Talk: “You Can Do It!” Her second TEDx was held at 14 with “The Art of Rewriting Your Story.” She’s also received the titles of “Young Woman Leader” and “Spokane Young Philanthropy Award” through Spokane County United Way, the “Most Inspiring Youth Award” from Giving Back Spokane, the Social Advocacy Award from Chase Youth Commission, “Spokane’s Miss Teen India,” and was first runner up for “Washington’s Miss Teen India.”

Spokane's Sindhu Surapaneni
Surapaneni holds titles of “Young Woman Leader,” “Spokane Young Philanthropy Award,” “Most Inspiring Youth Award,” “Spokane’s Miss Teen India,” and first runner-up for “Washington’s Miss Teen India.” Photo courtesy: Sindhu Surapaneni

Words of Wisdom from Spokane’s Sindhu Surapaneni

“When you’re young, sometimes people don’t take you seriously or think you’re capable,” said Surapaneni. “However, age is NOT a limiting factor in one’s ability to serve others and make a difference. If the youth are doing good things in the community, it inspires more youth to do good. When young people do things, it encourages adults to get more involved, and that they, too, are capable.”

Finding purpose and passion at a very young age, Surapaneni shared some pointers on finding one’s calling. “Try out many different things, and don’t be afraid,” she says. “Do things even if you think you’re not good at it. Keep trying and practicing. Have persistence and never give up. Eventually, you will find your ‘thing,’ and you can use that thing to help others. Start somewhere, anywhere, and you’ll realize the impact you can have on people’s lives.”

Surapaneni’s story was not without trials and tribulations. Faced with discrimination and braving bullying, Surapaneni hasn’t always felt loved or a sense of belonging. She rewrote her story by getting back up, dusting herself off, and working toward helping others who face similar circumstances. Many of her paintings focus on diversity and inclusivity. Her piece, “Everyone is Loved Here,” represents a coming-together of all races and received a grant through Spokane Arts to be featured in many schools throughout the district and even nationally.

Since 2019, she’s been a member of the Indian Youth Club of Spokane, where she enjoys choreographing Bollywood dance performances as a self-taught dancer. This club has brought her the unique ability to learn and teach others about her culture while increasing diversity and inclusion in the Spokane area.

Shift your narrative from a negative to a positive by “Focus[ing] on the solution rather than the problem,” she says. “Look at obstacles as an adventure. Each failure is an opportunity to learn.” We can all agree that keeping a positive outlook is hard at the moment, but “looking back, you’ll understand how each failure was worth it. You wouldn’t be where you are without failure. Failure leads you to higher levels. You have to fail 50 times before finding success.”

As the author of your story, you have the power to change the narrative. “You are the protagonist. It’s never too late to start a new chapter and be the hero rather than the victim,” said Surapaneni. “It’s important not to let other people’s words or opinions affect you. There will be people who try to put you down, but getting back up is how you become better. It’s going to be hard, not easy, but it’s important to never give up. Keep pushing forward because you’re going somewhere.”

Spokane's Sindhu Surapaneni
Surapaneni uses her henna art to increase diversity and inclusion in Spokane while donating all proceeds to charity. Photo courtesy: Sindhu Surapaneni

Digging Deep With Sindhu Surapaneni

Digging deep, Surapaneni recognized what she likes best is helping others. “Realizing that your passion can make a difference in other people’s lives keeps you going,” she says. “Tap into motivation. Making a difference becomes easier than you think.” Your contribution to your community doesn’t need to be of monetary value. It can be sharing a hobby, craft, sport, your time, and so much more.

So, why does volunteering and giving back feel so good? According to Surapaneni, “If you’re helping others, there’s no way you won’t feel good about it. It’s great to see that you’re making a difference. Once I started helping people, it pushed me to want to help even more people. The more you do for others, the happier you’ll be.”

These days, Surapaneni is kept busy while still in school, volunteering, tutoring math, and performing with the Indian Youth Club of Spokane. She’s recently started doing henna arts in the community and at private events to promote her culture, inclusion and diversity while donating proceeds to local charities. Money made through math-tutoring and henna arts has been donated to Toys for Tots and Family Promise of Spokane, bedding to Sleep in Heavenly Peace, pajama sets to Embrace Washington, and warm clothing to Jewels Helping Hands. She is slated to receive the Young Woman of Achievement Award at the Spokane Convention Center during the YWCA luncheon in March.

Surapaneni’s future plans include continuing her noble cycle of helping people and Spokane prosper. Follow along with her creative and conscious journey and support her work through her Facebook Group.