Shreya and Sahana Mantha are working to provide circles of care for girls in need.
Shreya and Sahana Mantha Southerners of the Year: The Caregivers
Credit: Johnny Autry

Six years ago, after a visit to a homeless shelter in Mecklenburg County, sisters Shreya and Sahana Mantha became aware of the vast scope of need in their hometown of Charlotte, NC. Eager to broaden access to opportunities and provide educational resources for at-risk young women, including trafficking survivors and those experiencing homelessness, the pair created the Foundation for Girls.

"It's a youth-led social venture that works to change the life trajectories of girls in crisis through surrounding them with a circle of care and also educating them with the skills to be financially savvy, digitally capable, and empowered leaders with healthy minds, bodies, and spirits," says Shreya, who is a freshman in college. Workshops and coaching in financial wellness, digital literacy, leadership, and health and well-being, along with sustained relationships with dedicated coaches build a scaffolding of support for the youth who participate. The foundation now has 65 coaches leading workshops and providing consistent individualized care for girls in need—over 2,100 so far.

The sisters haven't had to look far for inspiration or encouragement along the way. "Our mom is an important role model for us. She has demonstrated consistency, discipline, and determination for my sister and me, and that's something we always carry with us," says Sahana, who is currently in eighth grade. "Another thing our mom has taught us is to take little steps every day, and those little steps will build something enormous," adds Shreya.

While still in school themselves, the sisters plan to continue their work in Charlotte and beyond, empowering other girls to realize the potential in their own lives. "It's not just that we're growing up together," explains Shreya. "But we're also building something together, and that is probably the most special part."