Written by Satya Jella, Gwinnett School of Math, Science & Technology, Youth Ambassador
Devneet Singh is a junior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology (GSMST). She was recently selected as Georgia Youth Leadership Award and was named one of the top 20 leaders under the age of 20 in Georgia, for her work in establishing the GSMST branch of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. As a fellow 21st Century Leader and my high school peer, I had the honor to highlight the great work she’s doing at our school and community.
At school, Devneet is a member of 3 honor societies, and is an Assistant Team Leader for her robotics team. She is optimistic, and has a charming personality. She loves meeting new people, and above all, she loves helping them to the best of her ability – which is why she started the VITA program.
VITA is a free nonprofit program funded by the IRS to serve poor families, limited English families, the elderly, and disabled citizens with their tax forms. Most programs are led by adults; Devneet is the President and founding member of the only high school VITA program in Georgia and one of the only ones in the nation. She began the club in 2015, recruiting over 30 volunteers to fill tax forms. To get the program off the ground, Devneet created proposals and met with the United Way of Greater Atlanta, an IRS offshoot, to get the program off the ground. She presented the VITA program at the GSMST club fair, recruiting over 30 volunteers who had a similar desire to make a difference in their community. She taught the volunteers, writing lesson plans, using practice tax scenarios, and sharing experiences with other adult volunteers throughout the state. Each volunteer (including Devneet) went through 3 taxing tests, pun intended, in order to become certified to fill tax forms.
When I asked her what obstacles she faced, she told me that students were never taken seriously by their clients. After all, how could a teen know enough to fill a tax form? The only way to reassure the clients was to help them with their forms, and let them see the confidence with which the students were able to help. All of the volunteers learned essential tax skills, which every citizen ought to know, as well as developing their communication skills. As a leader, Devneet encouraged students to come out of their comfort zone and create an impact in their community.
When asked what leadership was, Devneet said, “Leadership is leading by example and not by force. It is important for a leader to find the strengths in others and bring them out so they can improve their community. As a high school leader, this is the time to grow and discover who we are, so as a leader, is important for me to find and bring these qualities out now so that they can be nurtured in the future. 21st Century Leaders has taught me to be the type of leader that puts the needs of other first in order to help people grow and turn them into future leaders.”
A true leader, indeed.