Since a young age, Neal Bharadwaj has been driven to give back to the community. He remembers his parents taking him places to volunteer when he was a child.
While other students at his Fremont high school were struggling to complete their required 40 hours of community service, Bharadwaj completed more than 1,300 hours by volunteering at Stanford Hospital, Masonic Home for Adults, Niles Canyon Challenger Little League and Jeena, a Los Gatos based nonprofit organization, among others. He discovered that helping nonprofit organizations that supported the needs of disabled children was especially rewarding.
During his sophomore year of high school, Bharadwaj founded Matters of Community (MOC), a nonprofit focused on enhancing self-esteem and improving the integration of special-needs children into mainstream community through music, arts, theater and sports.
"During my early volunteer experience, I was able to spot a unique need that was unfulfilled," he said. "I believe helping those in the community - particularly the underrepresented, disenfranchised and disadvantaged - is essential in ensuring that we are all created equal remains unchallenged."
Under Bharadwaj's direction, MOC continues to support individuals and organizations and sponsors projects and activities globally that fulfill its mission. The organization sponsors music and dance classes and hosts public performances.
In addition to raising $5,000 for various organizations, Bharadwaj donates his time and also recruits other volunteers to help out. Locally, he volunteers at Mercy Medical Center in Merced.
This past summer, Bharadwaj and his younger brother made a special trip to India to deliver a $1,000 check to help build a music department at the Blind Relief Center in New Delhi.
Networking, comes as naturally to Bharadwaj as community service, and it's a gift he's brought with him to UC Merced. Bharadwaj is serving his second year as president of the South Asian Student Association on campus. As choreographer and captain of UC Merced Bhangra, a festive Punjabi folk dance group, he hopes to enlist his Bhangra teammates to perform with him at MOC's annual fundraiser in Fremont this November.
Since transferring from UC Irvine to UC Merced in his sophomore year, Bharadwaj has enjoyed the campus' sense of community.
"You get the chance to know your professors on a one-on-one basis," he said. "You aren't just a number. You have more opportunities to make a lasting mark on the campus."