Spirit of Giving Back Drives Divya Manthena July 20, 2015 | TULSA, OKLA. By Lisa D. Mickey

Divya Manthena has used golf as a vehicle for philanthropic efforts that focus on children and span global borders. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

It’s not every day when a teenager admits that her personal motto is to “give while you live." Nor is it typical when a teen has the incentive to raise nearly $40,000 for charity before her 18th birthday. But then again, Divya Manthena is not the everyday teen.

Manthena, 17, of Moorpark, Calif., is competing in this week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Tulsa Country Club. She struggled in the first round, but while her name may not be at the top of the leader board, Manthena has already proven herself to be a champion of causes.

Four years ago, at age 13, Manthena founded a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with her father’s assistance. She called it Krishak, which means “farmer” in Hindi. The movement set out with a mission to “help people suffering from hardships around the world.”

“The least that anyone can do is to give in any way,” said Manthena, a recent graduate of La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “Even a little bit can make an impact on people’s lives.”

In 2013, she received recognition for her work, winning the USGA-AJGA Presidents’ Leadership Award. The award recognizes one male and one female junior golfer who demonstrate leadership, character and community service through volunteerism.

Because she was becoming an accomplished amateur golfer, her mother suggested that she find a way to use golf to help others by raising money through charity tournaments. Manthena, who was born in California and holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and India, focused her first efforts on helping families of farmers in monsoon-ravaged parts of India.

When the earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Japan in 2011, the $6,000 she raised in a charity golf tournament was sent to Japan through the American Red Cross. At her second charity golf tournament in 2012, she raised $5,000 for the children’s cancer ward at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Manthena created the fliers for the charity golf tournaments on her computer. Her father drove the precocious teen to area golf courses, where she would leave her fliers and personally invite golfers in the practice areas to play in her event.

By 2013, Manthena hosted her third charitable golf tournament to benefit the Special Olympics of Ventura County in California. That event raised nearly $25,000 and included an auction for donated tickets to The Masters and a Justin Bieber concert. The funds she raised allowed her local Special Olympics chapter to purchase golf equipment and compete in Special Olympics golf tournaments and for Special Olympians to attend summer camps.

“Golf has given me a way to give back to my community,” she said.

Manthena learned about benevolence and tenacity through her family heritage. Her great-great-grandfather was a freedom fighter in India who was imprisoned for his civil disobedience against the British government. He died in jail in 1944 before India gained its independence in 1947.

His daughter – Divya’s great-grandmother – established an orphanage and school in Korukollu, India, located in the state of Andhra Predesh.

Manthena hopes to continue her charitable work after she begins her freshman year this fall at Siena College outside Albany, N.Y. The honors student will play on the women’s golf team at Siena, but she also has been accepted into the eight-year Albany Medical College program. She plans to specialize in pediatric cardiology.

Even with a move to upstate New York in her future, Manthena hopes to organize a charity golf tournament in California this fall, as well as a tournament in India in December. The Hrduya (Heart) Foundation will be the beneficiary of that event.

“The world would be a better place if everybody gives a little bit,” Manthena said. “I plan to keep doing what I can.”

Those goals are ambitious for anyone, but for a soon-to-be college freshman golfer aiming for a career in medicine, reaching out a hand to help others fits the teen’s mantra to “give while you live.”