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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Everybody is loved here’: Sindhu Surapaneni’s compassion and selflessness honored by YWCA

Artist, dancer, high school freshman and YWCA woman of achievement Sindhu Surapaneni poses for a photograph at Rocky Hill Park in Liberty Lake on Friday.  (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Liberty Lake artist and dancer Sindhu Surapaneni, now a high school freshman, has been helping her community while raising money for the homeless since she was 11. Her work and dedication have earned her the 2024 YWCA Young Woman of Achievement Award.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and children were confined to their homes to do virtual schoolwork, Sindu got the idea to host art classes on Zoom and Facebook live. The sessions were free and she hosted more than 400 of them. Later she partnered with the Telugu Association of North America to host summer camps, charging $10 for the Zoom classes. She donated the money she earned to Blessings Under the Bridge, a local nonprofit that feeds homeless people in downtown Spokane once a week.

That was just the start of her efforts to help the homeless. Sindhu can trace her desire to help to when she was little and driving with her parents in downtown Spokane. She would often close her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see all the homeless people, but soon realized that did nothing to help. “It hurt me to see all the homeless people living on the streets,” she said. “As I got older, I realized that closing my eyes only made the problem disappear for me.”

Once school was back in session, she began teaching art lessons at local elementary schools. Sometimes she would visit only one class, sometimes she would visit several. Her first school was Riverbend Elementary in Greenacres, just down the road. “I found out they don’t have an art program because of lack of funding,” she said.

She would use her study hall time while she was in middle school to go teach art classes. She said she enjoys seeing how everyone’s art turns out differently even though they all hear the same instructions. “I think it’s important to exercise their creativity and express themselves in different ways,” she said.

Her favorite art form to teach is acrylic painting.

“I like the way the colors can blend,” she said. “It can be super colorful.”

She has sold her art over the years and each time has donated her profits to organizations like Blessings Under the Bridge and Giving Backpacks. She also supports organizations such as Embrace Washington, Jewels Helping Hands and Family Promise of Spokane. Her painting on inclusion, titled “Everybody is Loved Here” is on display at 22 schools and businesses. She recently founded a nonprofit organization, Imaginations2Creation, to focus on art that brings messages of positivity and hope.

Liberty Lake Mayor Cris Kaminskas got to know Sindhu through her work in the community.

“I’ve honored her a couple times at city council,” she said. “We have a piece of her artwork in City Hall. She’s just been so involved in the community.”

Kaminskas said she has recommended that Sindhu apply for an Association of Washington Cities Center for Quality Communities scholarship when she is a high school senior. The scholarships are given to those who give back to their communities and have a strong civic spirit, Kaminskas said.

“She’s got a huge, great future in front of her,” she said.

When asked why she gives away all her profits instead of saving for college, Sindhu said she can worry about that later.

“I just like to be able to make a difference in people,” she said. “I see that I’m able to make a difference. When it’s time for college, I can earn it in a different way.”

She’s also been dancing for several years and teaches Bollywood dance classes. Sindhu said she began choreographing dances when she was 9. She took several lessons in Bharatanatyam, a style of religious dance from India, but stopped when the only person who taught it moved out of the area.

“It has to be instructed by a certified person,” she said. “It’s really strict with the moves.”

Sindhu said she sees teaching dance classes as a way to spread knowledge about her Indian culture. She also started doing henna art, a type of temporary tattoo, at local community events. “A lot of people enjoy henna and they can learn about the culture,” she said.

Her efforts have been recognized with numerous awards. She was nominated for a Spokane Arts award for inclusion, has won the Gold Presidential Volunteer Service Award twice, the Spokane Young Philanthropy Award and the Most Inspirational Youth Award. She also has given two TEDx talks.

Sindhu said she is grateful for the support of her parents.

“Without them I would not be where I am today,” she said. “No matter how crazy something seemed, they were always behind me.”

She said she was honored to receive the YWCA award and enjoyed attending the awards luncheon and meeting the other Women of Achievement award winners.

“It was definitely a cool experience,” she said. “A lot of inspiring people were there.”