A youngster in the Boy Scouts of America has taken the U.S.-based youth development organization's motto -- "Be prepared" -- well beyond himself to help hundreds of high-school students with online learning.
Manan Shah, 16, a high-school senior and Boy Scout from New Jersey, saw many students struggling with online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and created a system to help them.
"We still realized there was kind of that missing piece without a teacher being present at all times," Shah explained to VOA. "So, we figured this was our way to give back if we could get a team of volunteers to help the other students."
With co-founder Linda Liu, 16, another high school senior, they created the nonprofit tutoring service Limitless Minds Inc. that offers free tutoring.
"Our team of high school volunteers offers free one-on-one virtual tutoring to [kindergarten to Grade 8] students in order to ease their transition to online education," according to the nonprofit's mission statement.
Shah has been a Boy Scout for a decade. He led a group of more than 100 Scouts as senior patrol leader and has served as a group leader. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) provides "character development and values-based leadership training" to 2.2 million youth members up to age 21 and approximately 800,000 volunteers in the United States and its territories.
"I've done a lot of community service and also gotten a lot of leadership experience. And then I've also volunteered at a local conservation unit, where I had leadership experience and that was also community service," Shah said about his experience in Boy Scouts.
He also excels in advanced placement and honors classes, has placed first in national math competitions and scored a near-perfect score (1580) on the Scholastic Aptitude Test required for admission to most American universities, according to an article about him in a Boy Scout news site.
Limitless Minds co-founder Linda Liu says her experience as a dancer has helped her create the non-profit as well.
"I've been dancing for over 10 years" competitively, she told VOA. "That really just builds a sense of responsibility, and there's a lot of leadership involved and you have to work together with your team."
Tutoring is free at Limitless Minds. Students get 30 minutes to two hours of tutoring per session. For safety and security, Limitless Minds requires students have a parent next to them for the tutoring session.
The tutors receive no pay, but they do earn volunteer hours for various groups.
However, starting an enterprise has not been all smooth sailing.
"Trying to keep in communication with everyone does get tough. It takes a lot of time, but at the end of the day, it is worth it," Shah told VOA in an interview.
Along with his co-founder, Shah has been supported by his family, teachers, school officials and the entire community.
"We've gotten positive feedback from school principals, from parents, really from all sorts of people and we even have tutoring logs where parents can submit feedback after each of their sessions," Shah explained.
"Overall, I think we both just want to help as many people as possible and start more chapters, get more tutors/tutees, help as many people possible, and just spreading Limitless Minds as far as possible," Liu said.
Although Shah and Liu will graduate next spring and plan to head to college in fall 2021, they say Limitless Minds will go on.
"Yeah, for sure. That's all we're here for. So, if people still want the free tutoring, which it seems like they will, then I'd be happy to continue," Shah said.
"You know, we're only getting started," Liu said. "We're not just going to start this and then go to college and leave it. It's something we're both passionate about. We're both dedicated to this, we want to keep this going and just really see where it can go."
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So far, Limitless Minds says it has provided more than 1,400 hours of free tutoring with a team of more than 300 high-school age tutors helping more than 300 students from grades kindergarten through Grade 8. And they have 14 chapters in the United States, Pakistan and El Salvador.
Shah advises anyone who wants to start a community-service organization should go for it.
"For anyone else who might want to start a community service initiative just like this just know that even if it seems overwhelming to keep going. We never even thought we'd come this far and be able to help so many people," he said. "Everything starts off small and as long as your heart is in the right place and really care about what you're doing it will start to grow. You'll be able to help a lot of people and that makes it really rewarding at the end of the day."