The Daily Northwestern

Weinberg senior balances classes with leading a nonprofit organization

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Nikita Patel

Nikita Patel

Source: The Picture People

Source: The Picture People

Nikita Patel

Olivia Zapater-Charrette, Reporter

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For Weinberg senior Nikita Patel, music is about more than performance or technique. Pate runs Simple Gifts, a nonprofit organization she started in high school, which works to provide refurbished instruments to low-income music students.

Patel founded the nonprofit four years ago, but after coming to Northwestern, she said she took a break from managing the group, but began leading it again this year.

Patel has been studying music since kindergarten and has been playing the flute since the third grade, she said. Inspired by her flute teacher, Rosane Volchan O’Conor, and O’Conor’s after-school music education program for low-income students in Houston, Patel decided to get involved in helping students gain access to the same resources she had.

Patel noticed that although all of the students working with O’Conor had access to recorders, only one graduated to playing the flute due to lack of affordability or access to instruments.

“At the time I was starting to teach lessons in my home community,” Patel said. “I was getting paid for that and I was like, ‘I don’t need this money, so I will invest it in trying to find instruments and refurbishing them and giving them to these kids.’”

Patel reached out through local newspapers, asking people to donate used instruments. The local community then began making monetary donations as well, and Patel and her sister, Maya Patel, refurbished and distributed the musical equipment.

A few years later, Simple Gifts was born.

“When I was trying to get ads in the newspaper, a lot of them turned me down initially just because I had nothing,” Patel said. “So I laid low … and then eventually The Houston Chronicle posted, and that’s when most of our donations started flooding in.”

Simple Gifts now operates in Houston and Kenya, where Patel collaborates with a program that provides music education for children in impoverished areas surrounding Nairobi. People who wish to donate to the organization can contact the Patel sisters through their website and organize a meeting with them. Children who wish to receive instruments go through a rigorous application process, which is moderated at all times by the two sisters.

“We want to make (them receiving instruments) a big deal so that they feel that they really accomplished something,” Maya Patel said.

Nikita Patel is trying to expand Simple Gifts and begin operating in Chicago, she said. The goal is for them to move beyond just providing the instruments to creating a full support structure for the students to encourage them to continue their music education.

She said she plans to keep working with Simple Gifts but to pass her leadership position on to someone else.

“I’ve figured out what I need to let go and what I need to keep in order to put me in the right position to continue on past Northwestern,” Nikita Patel said. “Finding that has been a balancing act for sure.”

Email: oliviazc@u.northwestern.edu

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