Pranathi Manivannan (far right) standing with (left to right) Marci Schmeck, Jillian McGuinn and Shawn McGuinn, carrying playground equipment purchased with the money donated by Leaders Across the World.

By Jamie Lu

At a young age, Pranathi Manivannan recognized the need in her community for better educational resources for children with developmental disabilities. Her mother worked as a teacher at a school for individuals with special needs, and Manivannan often visited. Noticing that the school was underfunded, unsanitary and lacked proper educational resources, she decided to do something about it.

Today, Manivannan is a rising senior at Strawberry Crest High School and the founder of EmpowerED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support and supplies to children with autism and special needs.

EmpowerED has already made a significant impact on the local community. Under Manivannan’s leadership, the organization has raised money for children with special needs by partnering with sponsors like Todd Allen and the Brandon Rotary Club, who have helped her expand her reach and establish connections with local businesses and other nonprofit leaders.

EmpowerED’s work has also garnered international recognition. Leaders Across the World recognized Manivannan as a member of its 2023 Changemakers Across the World cohort and donated several hundred dollars in support of EmpowerED’s cause. Manivannan used this money to purchase laptops, technology and playground equipment for children with special needs.

But she’s only just getting started. One of EmpowerED’s main goals is to establish a school specifically for children with developmental disabilities — a goal that the organization has already taken steps toward achieving. Last year, Manivannan worked with local teachers to open a school and operate it for several months, but as of now they are still attempting to acquire more funding and materials to develop a specialized learning program for the students. To accomplish this, Manivannan has plans to host a book drive and used technology drive in the near future. She is also seeking sponsorships from local businesses and is in the process of designing an Instagram page and a website for EmpowerED.

Manivannan recognizes how teamwork and support have been integral to the cause and thanked Eleanor Saunders from ECHO, Shawn and Jillian McGuinn, Marci Schmeck and her parents for their support and guidance throughout her journey.

“Our mission is inclusivity,” Manivannan said. “We want to champion the unique strengths of children with disabilities and special needs. We’re trying to create an environment of understanding and respect and collaboration.”

Clearly, EmpowerED’s work is worth investing in, because not only is it making a positive impact, but it is also shaping a “future where every child’s potential can shine, and they can become valuable members of society.”

EmpowerED could always use more help; members of the community who want to connect with or support the organization can do so by contacting Manivannan at or 813-389-0850.

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