Town Talk Features

Student Standouts: 1.20.21

sri jaladi of parkway west high school | The pandemic has impacted everyone in our community, but the homeless population has been one of the hardest hit. Parkway West senior Sri Jaladi is dedicated to supporting this vulnerable group in St. Louis and beyond. Through his nonprofit NANO (Navigating Access to New Opportunities) Lending, he launched a campaign to spread information about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine locally. For more information, visit covidvaccinenotify.com

What sparked your interest in helping the unhoused in St. Louis?
There is a negative connotation that people are in this situation because of their own choices. After meeting with unhoused individuals, I realized that there are so many skilled, hardworking people who have fallen victim to circumstances outside of their control. I’ve met a wide array of professionals like teachers and chefs who could do incredible things if they had the resources. I think there is a stigma around the word ‘homeless,’ so I always say ‘unhoused’ instead because it suggests that it is a temporary situation that can be overcome. 

Where did the idea for NANO Lending come from?
Someone explained to me that entrepreneurship is rampant in the unhoused community. He himself bought and sold scrap metal to survive. Through my participation in the Parkway SPARK! incubator program, I realized what could be done with a little entrepreneurial mentorship and support. Since high school students could generate revenue with minimal resources, I thought unhoused individuals could do the same thing with a little help.

Tell me what NANO does.
We have three-pronged approach for people to launch businesses and make a sustainable income. We run workshops and incubators in shelters, connect unhoused individuals with local businesses and experts for mentorship, and provide funds for necessary equipment. We call it a loan, but there is no expectation that it be repaid. If people are successful, we ask that they pay it forward to someone else in the unhoused community.

Along with outreach about the vaccine, what have you been doing during the pandemic?
When shelters were getting ready for lockdown and quarantine, I realized it was impossible for them to socially distance and take all of the necessary safety precautions. I reached out to NANO participants who had received a sewing machine to start their businesses, and we were able to distribute more than 1,600 masks in camps and shelters throughout St. Louis. NANO also conducted safety workshops, and our normal services have been moved online. I’ve uploaded the recorded workshops to YouTube, so people outside of St. Louis can watch them and also apply for assistance and mentorship. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love to hang out with my friends and try new activities. Right now, skateboarding is one of my big hobbies, and I also enjoy go-karting. Going to the track and driving around in a circle may sound boring, but for me, it’s a great de-stressor and a lot of fun.

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